Thursday, March 29, 2007

Iran's Martime Claim

Is This What The Arrest Of Our Naval Personel Is About?

From "Limits in the Seas, No 114, Iran's Martime Claims" (Published by the United States Department of State, the Bureau of Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs on 16,March, 1994.)

On May 2, 1993, the Government of Iran completed legislative action on an "Act on the Marine Areas of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea." On July 6, 1993, the Iran notified the Secretary General of the United Nations of the legislation. The legislation provides a reasonably comprehensive set of maritime claims to a territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and continental shelf, and Iran's jurisdictional claims within those areas. Many of these claims do no comport with the requirements of international law as reflected in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS Convention). The Act replaces provisions of earlier Iranian legislation

For the full document see here, trawl down to page 44 for the map.

Our Co-ordinates Fall Into Both Iraqi And Iranian Territorial Waters

If the legislation I quote above has not been amended since 1993, then an examination of the Maps produced by the Government and those shown in the link I provided above will show that our troops were arrested in Iraqi Waters according to Iraqi Legislation (as shown in my earlier item) and Iranian Waters according to Iranian Legislation.

The Iraqi Leglisation would seem to conform to the International Laws of the Sea, which are violated by the Iranian legislation.

But it would seem that in an answer to the Pete Wishart of the SNP, Margaret Beckett was incorect to inform the Commons that there is no ongoing dispute between Iran
and Iraq over these border locations.

Indeed if Iran and Iraq (and Iran and the International Community) are in dispute about the borders then troops out on a patrol boat, without helicopter coverage and several miles away from their Frigate were clearly being placed into what should have been known to be a serious danger.

If we admit to these shortcomings, it might help to ensure the release of Faye Turney and her companions.


calgacus said...

That's interesting and i think you're right. We don't know exactly who's holding our sailors and marines or what their motives are - but they do seem to be looking to gain prestige by being seen as standing up to Britain as the former colonial power without risking all out war with the US.

We may have to concede some face to get our people back safely.

calgacus said...

Also thought this analysis by an American-Iranian professor is interesting. He links it to the US arrest of Iranian diplomats which he saw as the US trying to get something it could use as leverage in negotiations with Iran over Iraq - with the capture of British sailors being the Iranian counter-move.

If that's accurate it'd be a good idea to get our troops out of Iraq as soon as possible before they get endangered by being used as pawns again in a US-Iranian chess game.

Harry Barnes said...


Even if we withdraw our troops the problem of the division between Iraqi and Iranian territorial rights in the Gulf remains. It is the Iraqi position which seems to fit in with the International Laws of the sea. Under the Iranian principles of carving up the sea, Iraq would only receive the narrowest channel of access to the Gulf and even this would violate Internationally recognised Kuwaiti sea space - this all effects the air space as well. The last thing we need is for Iraq to be virtually blocked in. Our fleet and airforce) might then need to stay to protect an Iraqi life line! If we arn't careful, the whole thing could get dangeriously out of hand.
I haven't been able to access the Prof's article. And I imagine that I flew over the area in dispute in a commercial plane!

calgacus said...

That's true - it would. The question is whether the reason for the Iranians taking the British forces captive is more about the territorial dispute or whether its more about them trying to get the Iranians taken captive by US forces in Iraq released.

I've pasted in the prof's article below.

Duel for Leverage Fuels Conflict, Not Diplomacy
Analysis by Trita Parsi*

WASHINGTON, Mar 30 (IPS) - As the dispute over Iran's seizure of British sailors continues to twist and turn, what may have been an isolated incident at the outset is quickly developing into yet another move in the geopolitical chess game between the West and Iran.

The incident took place on Mar. 23 in a disputed waterway between Iraq and Iran. Fifteen British sailors were detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and after a few short days of quiet diplomacy, both the British and Iranian governments resorted to fighting their case in public -- a move that significantly reduces the chance of a quick and smooth resolution to the dispute.

>From the outset, the British authorities have insisted in stark categorical terms that the sailors were in Iraqi and not Iranian waters. On Wednesday, the British produced GPS coordinates to support their claim, even though the coordinates were from a helicopter that London says hovered over the Indian ship that the sailors had inspected, and not the GPS coordinates of the sailors themselves.

Iran was quick to produce its own evidence. The GPS unit of one of the British sailors, confiscated by the Iranian authorities, shows that the British were not only in Iranian waters at the time of the incident, but that they had crossed over into Iranian waters on five earlier occasions as well, according to Tehran.

Whether the British were in Iranian waters or not -- and whether the Iranians believe the British were in Iranian waters or not -- Tehran seems to be using the incident to regain leverage over the West in the confrontation over its nuclear programme and its rising power and influence in the Middle East.

Much indicates that both Iran and the U.S. have come to recognise that it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid some sort of diplomatic confrontation between them. This is particularly problematic for the George W. Bush administration, which for several years has adamantly opposed the idea of talking to Tehran.

The sudden realisation of the near-impossibility to avoid real diplomacy caused much anxiety in the Bush administration earlier this year. Washington had no shortage of contingency war plans with Iran -- but no contingency plans for diplomacy, and consequently no preparation for such negotiations.

So when the Iraq Study Group and Congress pushed the White House to recognise the need for diplomacy with Iraq's neighbours, including Iran, the Bush administration balked. It lacked leverage to negotiate with Iran, it said.

"Frankly, right at this moment there's really nothing the Iranians want from us and so in any negotiation right now we would be the supplicant," Secretary of Defence Robert Gates explained. "The only reason to talk to us would be to extract a price, and that's not diplomacy, that's extortion."

If the U.S. lacked leverage over Iran, the answer lied in gaining that leverage. Instead of accepting the Iraq Study Group's recommendation to open talks with Iran, the Bush White House sought to increase the pressure on Iran to gain leverage -- in any way possible.

On Dec. 24, U.S. troops arrested several Iranian officials in Iraq -- of which at least two were diplomats. A few weeks later, an office the Iranians say was a consulate in Iraqi Kurdistan was raided. Another five Iranians were detained there. They are still held by the U.S. and Tehran has had no access to them.

In addition, Ali Reza Asgari, a senior Iranian official who served in the cabinet of former President Mohammad Khatami, went missing in Turkey in February. His family and authorities in Tehran say he was kidnapped by the Israelis. The U.S. says he defected.

Whether the arrested Iranians were diplomats or not and whether Asgari defected or was kidnapped, in two short months, the detentions of the Iranians, the imposition of financial sanctions on Iran and the passing of two Security Council Resolutions has seemingly provided the U.S. with the leverage it was seeking. Washington is suddenly feeling confident and is hinting a vague willingness to talk to Tehran from its perceived position of strength.

In this context, Iran's holding of the British sailors may serve as a signal to Washington that if seizing personnel from the other side is fair game for the sake of gaining leverage, then Iran can also play that game.

Rather than an act of desperation resulting from the onslaught of Western pressure, as some in Washington have interpreted Iran's actions, the arrest of the British sailors may have been a calculated measure to fight fire with fire -- but without targeting the U.S. directly (which surely would have caused things to escalate out of control.)

The revelation of what Tehran says is the second letter by the sole female sailor among the Brits, Faye Turney, seems to support this interpretation. The letter concludes with a call by Turney for British troops to leave Iraq. "Isn't it time for us to start withdrawing our forces from Iraq and let them determine their own future?" it said.

The letter's linking of the seizure of the sailors with the larger political disputes in the region lends support to the interpretation that Iran is -- at least at this stage of the dispute -- seeking to regain the leverage it lost when the U.S. began targeting Iranian officials in Iraq.

Iran may feel justified in responding to Washington's pressure tactics by targeting British troops in the narrow waterways between Iraq and Iran. But it's difficult to see an end to this duel for leverage. If Iran gets the upper hand, Washington may further raise the stakes and embark on a new set of provocative actions. And if Washington regains the edge over Iran, chances are that Tehran will respond in kind.

As each side increases the stakes in an effort to gain the upper hand in a potential future negotiation, tensions in the region increase, as does the risk for an uncontrollable escalation. Rather than improving their negotiation positions, both sides are closing the diplomatic window through this risky game of one-upmanship.

*Dr. Trita Parsi is the author of "Treacherous Alliances -- The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States" (Yale University Press, 2007). He is also president of the National Iranian American Council ( (END/2007)

calgacus said...

I completely agree with you though that admitting that there's a long-standing dispute over the Shatt Al-Arab and complications in determining whose waters are whose would be a good way for the government to make a concession to Iran's govt without losing face.

It's a very good idea.

Harry Barnes said...

Thank you for the valuable article by Dr. Trita Parsi. I have also now been able to access it and it gives a link to an article by Khody Akhari entitled "Politics - US/Iraq - Fate of Five Detained Iranians Unknown". As the incident this describes happened in Arbil which I visited last April, I will seek to find out more about it from my contacts - and via the internet. I can always try to get something to Margaret Beckett's Parliamentary Office. I sent the Foreign Office the link to my blog item, but that was only via the public email system and it would end up in the ether.

calgacus said...

The BBC online news says the americans arrested 6 Iranians but claim they've released two who were diplomats.

There's also the Iranian general who the Iranians say was kidnapped in Turkey and the Israelis and US say defected to them. (no idea who's telling the truth on that)

Harry Barnes said...


See -

This includes an Iranian Map of the claimed position of our troops. It shows a significant similarity with the British map for the border of the territorial waters between Iraq and Iran. In both cases the border moves in a 45 degree south-easterly direction from its point at the entrance to the Shatt-al-Arab. This means that the map I referred to on my above blog item (from l993) is NOT being used by the Iranians as it took a line due south of the entry to the Shatt-al-Arab. That is well to the West of the line they are now using. So my claim seems to have run into the ground - at least for now.

However, I am still up and running on the Iranian's linking of the Arbil arrests to those in the Gulf. I am pursuing this with other

calgacus said...

Good to know Harry - It'll be interesting to hear what they have to say.

The BBC is reporting the US govt have refused to consider a prisoner exchange - and the Iranians are still saying they're going to put the sailors and marines on trial. Doesnt look good.