Daily archives: April 3, 2007

Turning the Tide in the Gulf

We really do seem to have turned the media tide on this one. The maritime law experts now feel it is safe to pop out of the woodwork and make plain there is no clear boundary, and the politicos are waking up to the fact that the disputed boundary gives you the diplomatic solution.

From Reuters today:

By Luke Baker

Tue Apr 3, 10:10 AM ET

LONDON (Reuters) – Shifting sands and a poorly defined maritime border could give Britain and Iran enough room to save face in their 12-day stand-off over a group of detained British sailors and marines, border experts say.

Because the maritime boundaries off the Shatt al-Arab waterway, drawn up in 1975 but not updated since, are open to a certain degree of interpretation, Britain and Iran could “agree to disagree” over exactly who crossed into whose territory.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Tuesday the next 48 hours could prove critical as both the British and Iranian governments have sought to moderate their positions after several days of heightened tension.

“It’s certainly not an irresolvable dispute,” said Martin Pratt, the director of the International Boundaries Research Unit at Britain’s Durham University.

“The fact that the coastline is constantly shifting means more issues would need to be taken into consideration than if the coastlines were more stable and there was agreement on exactly where the baselines along the coast were.”

Both the Iranian and British governments appear to have softened their stances in the past 24 hours, with each highlighting their desire to reach a negotiated solution.

Pratt said that suggested both realized they couldn’t afford to be too insistent about an issue that comes down to who says where exactly an incident occurred on a disputed boundary.

“You can’t be dogmatic about a maritime boundary that hasn’t been properly agreed,” he said.

Maritime lawyers said they expected British and Iranian officials to be able to sort out the wording of any agreement themselves, without turning to an outside arbiter such as the United Nations, which has handled maritime disputes in the past.

On Monday, Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, called for a “delegation” to determine whether the British sailors were in Iran or not, but didn’t define what sort of delegation.

“I think there’s plenty of scope in the uncertainty of the situation to be able to craft some kind of solution,” said Richard Harvey, the head of admiralty and casualty practice at law firm Reed, Smith, Richards, Butler.

“It strikes me that a) there is a lot of scope for disagreement and therefore b) quite a lot of scope for agreement.”


I know from my FCO moles that we are now adopting this line in the diplomacy. As long as they can stop Blair saying anything else stupid for a couple of days, I do think we can hope to see the captives home before too long.

It is amazing that it is only four days since I was denounced quite widely as a “Traitor” and “Scum” (and several still worse things – see the Harry’s Place blog. Or don’t – its nauseating) for saying what now everyone is coming to accept as the truth. There is no clear boundary in these waters. We were stupid to pretend, for propaganda and spin, that there is.

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It has been a very hectic few days, but they have been productive. I seem to have helped convince the mainstream media of the obvious truth that the maritime boundaries in this part of the Gulf are disputed and fuzzy, and that the real situation is much less clear than the British map. The BBC has at last started routinely to refer to the boundary as disputed and unclear. The support from the Mail on Sunday and Daily Mail helped enormously to turn the tide, as did the serious piece in the New York Times.

Last night I did Newsnight, BBC News 24 and a pre-record for this morning’s Breakfast TV. In all cases the BBC introduction stated that the border was disputed and complex as reported fact before I started, which made it much easier.

This morning Richard Dalton, former British Ambassador to Iran, said clearly on BBC Breakfast TV that nobody could be certain whose waters they were in, that the boundary is not agreed and negotiating such boundaries is very complex. That is the first open confirmation of this from an “Establishment” figure since the Blair spin about being “utterly certain” we were in Iraqi waters.

Furthermore, both the FCO and MOD appear to have cottoned on that accepting this as all a muddle is the wiggle room for diplomacy to get us out of this dispute with neither side losing too much face, and the way to get our people back quickly.

There is always something of a price to pay for standing up to the government. I am Rector of the University of Dundee. The local newspaper, the Courier and Advertiser, yesterday published an article giving a highly tendentious account of my views, making me out to support the Iranian detention of the sailors. I wrote a letter to the Editor for publication to correct this, in mild terms, and telephoned yesterday afternoon to check they had received it. They did not publish my letter, but today published an article saying that students were calling for my resignation over my views on Iran. They still have made no effort to talk to me or get my view.

This is the letter I sent to the Courier.


I feel your report today (2 April) was remiss in not noting that I am calling for Iran to hand the captives back immediately, and have made that call consistently since the incident started. You seem to wish to portray me as supporting Iran in this affair, which is completely unfair. I want both sides to see sense and solve this peacefully and very quickly.

There is no agreed Iran/Iraq boundary in the Gulf south of the Shatt al Arab river. That is not a “claim” by me, it is an undeniable fact. Maritime boundaries are established by treaty, and there has never been one. Doubtless the Law department of the University, which had always been very good on international maritime law, can confirm that for you.

The incident took place in disputed waters. That is all we can say. It is also all we were saying. Commodore Tim Lambert on HMS Cornwall stated just after the incident: “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we were in Iraqi territorital waters. Equally the Iranians may well claim that they were in their territorial waters. The extent and definition of territorial waters in this part of the world is very complicated.”

Commodore Lambert summed the real situation up perfectly. But then the Number 10 spin doctors got to work and Tony Blair made the fatuous claim that he was “Utterly certain” that the incident was in Iraqi territorial waters. The MOD backed this up by producing a map showing a boundary in bright red lines. That boundary does not exist – it was drawn up by the MOD.

By publishing a map purporting to set the boundary in the Gulf, we closed the door on the obvious way to resolve this dispute and turned an incident into a crisis. The government’s desire to make hay out of jingoistic propaganda exceeded its desire to find a solution which would see our personnel returned.

The Iranians have legitimate claims in these seas – as do the Iraqis. it is not for us to decide the boundary between them. For the Iranians to make a practical demonstration of their claim against a foreign power boarding vessels in what they claim as “their” waters is arguably justifiable. But given the waters are disputed, they should behave with much greater circumspection, and to hold captives is bellicose and unjustified.

Both governments have painted themselves into corners. Both have to back down. The way to do that is to admit what everybody knew until they forgot it last week, that these waters are disputed and nobody knows for sure where the boundary is. We make plain that we had no intention of straying into Iranian territorial waters. The Iranians let our people go.

This should not be difficult to solve if the governments involved act reasonably. Both countries have leaderships which are deeply unpopular at home. The danger in those circumstances is that politicians welcome a chance to bang the drum of jingoism to win votes at homee, and are disinclined to compromise. I see elements of that here, and fear for our captives.

One element of this political trick is to pretend there are only two positions, and that anyone who queries is a “traitor” and on the side of the “enemy”. I am on the side of humanity.

Craig Murray

On the brighter side, I always find Jeremy Paxman instinctively likeable when I meet him. I realise that is not a universal view. Just before we went on air, he said that since I last met him he had read, and greatly enjoyed, Murder in Samarkand. I always feel a real thrill when anyone says they read it. I can’t quite explain why – it feels like they must really know me, so we have got through at least one side of several year’s worth of making friends before we start.

I confess to being a bit disappointed by sales of the book. It has sold some 8,000 in hardback, while the paperback has only been out for six weeks so it is a bit early to tell. I had unrealistic dreams of selling huge quantities – everyone tells me that 8,000 hardbacks for non-fiction is really good. But it certainly isn’t enought to live on – I get around 8% of the cover price, minus the costs of the map, index, some legal costs etc. Work it out.

What I find hard to reconcile is the astonishingly positive reaction from those who have read it, with the fairly low sales. I say astonishingly postive because so far 317 complete strangers (yes, I know, I am very nerdish to keep count) who have read Murder in Samarkand have emailed me to say what a huge impact it had on them. There seem two main themes – people did not realise how dark and despicable the heart of our government really is, and people relate to the open account of my own faults and eventual disintegration. Especially the letters indicate anyone who has ever suffered injustice from government or an unfair employer, seems to find those emotional wounds reopened.

But the book does not tell you how to contact me. I don’t think it would ever occur to me to contact the author of a book I had read. Yet 317 people who, with a very few exceptions, appear perfectly sane, have read Murder in Samarkand and then gone to the length of looking up my website, finding my contact details, and then writing to give me their reactions to my book.

The other thing that seems very positive is the number of very famous people who have now read it. I can only name those I happen to know have done so – until last night, for example, I had no idea Jeremy Paxman had. This is a bit of unashamed name-dropping, but among those I know have read Murder in Samarkand are: Noam Chomsky, Harold Pinter, David Owen, Brad Pitt, Tony Benn, David Frost, Jeremy Paxman, Bianca Jagger, David Hare and Steve Coogan.

So I am left wondering why it is not selling better. I think that part of the problem is marketing. If you go into Waterstones or Borders, you will probably find a copy, but you will have to go up or down to the politics department and poke around the bottom shelves until you find a single copy, spine-on. To sell well nowadays, a book has to be on tables in a “3 for 2” promotion or similar. For that your publisher has to do a deal with the bookstore – one of the disastrous results of independent booksellers being replaced by big chains. My publisher, Mainstream, uses Random House for its distribution and marketing. When asked why they didn’t make more effort to promote the book, Random House replied (I paraphrase, but not much) “Because nobody’s ever heard of Craig Murray”.

All of which is very frustrating. But the book is out there, and spreading solely by word of mouth. The emails keep coming in, and keep my spirits up hugely.

I am now finishing off a short book called “Influence not Power – Foreign Policy for an Independent Scotland”, to be published by Polygon/Birlinn of Edinburgh.

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