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.