Lessons learned: Iran’s release of British prisoners 13

csmonitor discusses the consequences and lessons from the anticipated British detainee release.

“The release of 15 British naval personnel Wednesday, coming after several days of intensified negotiations, was welcomed in Britain as evidence that a “softly, softly” approach could prove effective with Iran ‘ as it did in a similar prisoner crisis three years ago….”

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13 thoughts on “Lessons learned: Iran’s release of British prisoners

  • Johan van Rooyen

    From the Christian Science Monitor article:

    'In his press conference, Ahmadinejad said, "On the occasion of the birthday of the great prophet [Muhammad] … and for the occasion of the passing of Christ, I say the Islamic Republic government and the Iranian people – with all powers and legal right to put the soldiers on trial – forgave those 15," he said, referring to the Muslim prophet's birthday on March 30 and the Easter holiday.'

    Why the ellipsis? I hope the CSM is not passing over Mr Ahmadinejad's words in order to deny him the opportunity to come across as he really is! 😉

  • Colin

    While I buy the Brits (I am an ex pat Brit) capabilities in the diplomacy dept, its no thanks to Blair. I would also suggest you, Craig, contributed some way to moving polarised views to a pragmatic outcome.

  • oulwan

    The ellipsis *seems* to be there in order to leave out the fact that Ahmadinejad mentioned Passover as well. BBC online reports it as follows:

    "On the occasion of the birth anniversary of the great prophet of Islam, and on the occasion of Easter and Passover, I would like to announce that the great nation of Iran, while it is entitled to put the British military personnel on trial, has pardoned these 15 sailors and gives their release to the people of Britain as a gift."

    I don't see the point. I watched it on TV. I assume many Christian Science Monitor readers did too.

    John Bolton's sour grapes on Ch 4 tonight was d?goutant.

  • Daniel

    I am unsure what to make of it. Was it a victory for good diplomacy and compromise? Or was there a victor? The Iranians didn't seem to get what they said they wanted out of this: an apology, an acknowledgement their territory was violated and the promise that such an incidence would never happen again. But equally, the behaviour of the naval personnel and the fact that they were not harmed in any way seemed to give Iran some kind of moral victory. Yet, is Blair truly humiliated or has he grown up? What tipped the balance towards the release? It makes me think that both sides offered each other something tangible (not just sweet words) to ensure a de-escalation. Perhaps the release of one of the Irbil diplomats, perhaps a deal over the territorial waters, etc. Or maybe the threat posed by naval warships rushing to the Arabian Gulf: http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2007/04/03/news/s

    If so, shouldn't we know about it?

  • eenymeeny

    Er, methinks the release of the British prisoners was part of a prisoner swap deal.

    Either Jalal Sharafi (who actually has been released), or the other five, for whom consular access will apparently soon been granted. Some info here: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/04/03/africa/….

    It is still nonetheless a victory for diplomacy, but not *quite* the kind that is being talked about loudest.

  • Chuck Unsworth

    If there are 'winners' in this saga they are without doubt the Iranians.

    What they have achieved (at zero cost to themselves) is a platform. They have been able to demonstrate a 'magnanimity' and 'reasonableness' on an international stage, way beyond Bush's bellicose mouthings and Blair's platitudes.

    They will have gained considerable kudos amongst the Muslim communities world-wide.

    As for Britain, sadly it will be seen yet again that a small group of determined individuals can bring this nation to its knees. It will also be understood that for all the hype about British 'Diplomacy', the FCO and the Minister were out of their depth and unable to react fast enough or to seize the initiative.

    In the aftermath two questions should be considered: A) What went wrong with the Navy's approach and tactics and, B) What went wrong with the FCO's responses?

    This has also shown quite clearly that the EU and the UN are not our supporters – if that was not already crystal clear.

    John Bolton has the intellect of a rabid dog. His comments are always ill considered and his actions always dangerous or divisive. He is a liability.

  • Daniel

    The FCO could not have got everything wrong, otherwise the personnel would not have been released so soon. A certain element of the Iranian regime secured a propaganda coup. Ahmadinejad is increasingly seen as a liability for the regime and Larijani has become Khameini's right-hand man. Yesterday looked like a bizarre compromise: Ahmadinejad got the chance to rant at length about the evils of the British and give medals, before releasing the British personnel (probably on Khameini's instructions). Ahmadinejad looked sidelined and weakened, having shown complete dogged defiance in contrast to Larijani's skillful negotiating. This episode has given us an insight into the shifts within the Iranian regime itself and how Ahmadinejad is having his wings clipped to prevent disaster, both domestically and in international relations.

    It won't stop the regime seeking to extend its sphere of influence through its network of militias and terrorists and I doubt it will have much of an impact on the nuclear issue. But Ahmadinejad's reckless and combative approach has been tamed. The West should now adjust its strategy towards Iran, putting more emphasis using economic pressure to open up Iranian civil society and push the regime further away from the totalitarian mentality personified by Ahmadinejad. This is where the EU can come to the fore, since it is one of Iran's main trading partners and a major source of investment.

  • oulwan

    As far as I know the USA has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980.

    The nuclear issue is still the biggest one. What if Iran (Khameini, not Ahmadinejad) wanted to demonstrate that "diplomacy works"? What if they want to get the US to talk – restore diplomatic relations? Once the 15 had been taken, was this not the best way in their eyes to demonstrate the benefits of diplomacy over US gung-ho threats (or rumours of threats) to bomb them?

    I'm sick and tired of the suspicion of Iran so blatant in the mainstream western media. Haven't the Iranians more than enough reason to be suspicious of Bush 'n' Blair?

    Iran has already been labelled "evil". As far as I'm concerned, torture, and detention without charge or trial (along with various sensory deprivation techniques), not to mention "extraordinary rendition", are downright evil. And I'm sick to death of this pot/kettle situation. John Bolton epitomises the attitude of the current US admin. And the bloodlust + arrogance he demonstrates is disgusting. Thank god he's out of his UN job.

    I'm a Joe (Jane) Soap. Craig is the diplomat. Perhaps he can tell me if he feels I'm being downright naive.

  • Craig


    It is not always the case, but in Iran at the minute I think further economic sanctions would play into the hands of the hardliners, who otherwise are in political trouble.

    I still haven't quite grasped why Iran having the prospect of eventual nuclear weapons is so much worse than Israel, Pakistan or India already having them.

  • Daniel

    Craig: I think the nuclear issue is a ruse. It is a bargaining chip for Iran and a stick for the US to beat Iran with. It is clear that the development of nuclear weapons in Iran is a long way off, if the regime does intend to plough the country's wealth into such a useless project. But there are more pressing issues related to the Iranian regime that concern its deteriorating human rights situation (executions have soared and Iran imprisons and executes more children than any other country in the world) and its development of a terrorist network in the Gulf region. I think this should be answered with a progression of measures, aimed at the political and business leaderships and their assets abroad. An economic blockade is not desirable, but attacking the wealth of the elite could force a change in attitude towards the people and the country's neighbours. Isn't this the kind of strategy you advocated for Uzbekistan?

  • Chuck Unsworth

    And North Korea? A stable regime?

    There are many other countries who are actively pursuing nuclear technology/weaponry. The genie is long out of the bottle. So the question is what happens when these weapons or chemical/biological weapons are used – as certainly they will. Africa and South America are worth examining too.

    But what events in recent years have graphically shown is that small states can have profound effects on larger ones, even with limited actions.

  • Craig


    Uzbekistan somewhat different in that it is so much a command ecoonomy no significant wealth reaches the middle class. Iran however has an established active and independent middle class, and there are hopeful signs that with a little patience they might get the political upper hand. Basically I take the view that economic development in Iran strengthens pro-democracy forces because there's enough scope for capitalism to operate and allow that to happen. I realise that is a view unfashionable to neo-conservatives and socialists, for different reasons. Can't help it; I believe in the liberal historical tradition.

  • Daniel

    "Iran however has an established active and independent middle class"

    The problem is that the Iranian middle-class is fairly apathetic. It's the workers and students who are revolting(!): trade unionists, students and minority groups have led the largest demonstrations in Iran in recent months. The middle-class is not a force for radical change – in many instances throughout history, it has been the basis for conservatism and even fascism.

    Iran is, indeed, a command economy in the sense that the foundations of the economy – oil, gas, chemicals, automobiles, etc – are all in state hands. Think of the largest companies in Iran: NIOC, NIGC, NPC, Iran Khodro, Saipa, etc, they are all in state ownership and will remain in state ownership. The private sector is restricted to small and medium sized enterprises, which are heavily influenced by the oil-led economic cycle. Wealth in Iran is also highly unevenly distributed. If you use the Gini Coefficient as a measure of inequality, Iran scores 43.0 and Uzbekistan scores 26.8 – the higher the number, the greater the inequality (the UK scores 36, making it more unequal than Uzbekistan) ( see http://hdr.undp.org/hdr2006/pdfs/report/HDR06-com… ).

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