Friday, March 30, 2007

Brinkmanship in the Persian Gulf

Seminal Words of Wisdom which can untie this knot.

Let me turn first to the last honest British statesman, well versed in both the Middle East and maritime matters, who is worthy of trust. That is Craig Murray, who is:
  • former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan (until he was cashiered for openly objecting to United Kingdom and U.S. support for torture there)
  • former head of the maritime section of the British Foreign Office
  • has considerable experience negotiating disputes over borders extending into the sea.
On his blog, Ambassador Murray says, Both Sides Must Stop This Mad Confrontation, Now!
There is no agreed maritime boundary between Iraq and Iran in the Persian Gulf. Until the current mad propaganda exercise of the last week, nobody would have found that in the least a controversial statement.
Murray cites the words of Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Lockwood. He is the Commander of the Combined Task Force in the Northern Persian Gulf as published in Stars and Stripes magazine, (October 24 2006):
Bumping into the Iranians can’t be helped in the northern Persian Gulf, where the lines between Iraqi and Iranian territorial water are blurred.

No maritime border has been agreed upon by the two countries.
Both sides are gaming this crisis which was, in one form or another, inevitable. The Iranians want to bargain to break out of their American-imposed isolation. Tony Blair doesn't want to let his master (George Bush) down. Therefore, instead of trying to solve the problem of getting Her Majesty's 15 sailors back, Downing Street is gaming for regime change.

Let's look at another quotation. This one is from the formal note from the Iranian government sent to the British embassy, the text of which was later released by the Iranian embassy in London. After asserting that two British vessels had "trespassed", it continues:
Since similar acts had taken place in the past and prior warning had been given against the repetition of such acts, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran protests strongly against this illegal act in violating Iranian territorial waters, emphasizes the respect for the rules and principles of international law concerning the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, underlines the responsibility of the British Government for the consequences of such violation, and calls for the guarantee to avoid the recurrence of such acts.

It will be appreciated if the esteemed embassy conveys this note to the relevant authorities of its government and informs this ministry of any explanation in this regard.
Regular readers of these pages are sophisticated enough not to need my boldfacing which I have supplied for the benefit of newbies. Yes, the first thing that should stand out is that the British have retained the quaint practice left over from the 20th century: diplomacy. They not only have an embassy in Tehran, they allow Iranians to have an embassy in London.

The second thing that stands out, of course, is that the Iranians do not appear to be asking for an apology, so much as an explanation and a commitment against reoccurrence. The latter, of course, would require Anglo-Iranian military communication and cooperation in the theater of operations; which would, obviously, require further diplomacy.

As I boldfaced earlier in this piece, there is an air of inevitability in this situation: our mislead Anglo-American alliance has foundered in between I-Wreck and I-Ruin. As long as we stagger along in this endless occupation of Iraq, oblivious of the ticking and tocking of the bad-luck clock, we are risking the calamity of yet one more war which war-starter Bush cannot justify or finish before his time is up.

And the longer we stay the course, the more isolated and alone America will find herself. Which brings me to the last quote of the day. Listen to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah who surprised Washington on Wednesday by telling the Arab League summit in Riyadh:
In beloved Iraq, blood flows between brothers in the shadow of illegitimate foreign occupation and hateful sectarianism, threatening a civil war.
On Thursday, the Saudi government stood by the king’s remarks. Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal told a news conference at the end of the summit:
Did (Iraq) choose to have these forces? Had this been the case, it would have been a different matter. Any military intervention that is not at the request of the country concerned is the definition of occupation.
All of the foregoing forces me back to a conclusion which I have put forward before. The road out of Iraq must first be routed through Washington; the goal of regime change was misdirected and must first be corrected before anything can be accomplished.