Turning the Tide in the Gulf 23


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.”

Ends

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.


23 thoughts on “Turning the Tide in the Gulf

  • greengorilla

    "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."

    Quite content to take your reference to Harry's Place as accurate. I won't be going to it. Unlike the Bliar, I'd rather stay out of polluted waters and minds as well!:^)

  • greengorilla

    Is the following commentary further evidence of MoD disinformation? I received it an email headed, 'Scholars file Request for Correction with NIST':

    ————————

    It would seem that our boys were in Iranian waters after all, and must have

    known it too. An unlikely source has tipped us off as to the truth.

    Checkout the MoD Press Release with nice explanations, photographs and maps

    to help.
    http://urlsnip.com/014712

    QUOTE

    "As shown on the chart, the merchant vessel was 7.5 nautical miles south

    east of the Al Faw Peninsula and clearly in Iraqi territorial waters. Her

    master has confirmed that his vessel was anchored within Iraqi waters at the

    time of the arrest. The position was 29 degrees 50.36 minutes North 048

    degrees 43.08 minutes East. This places her 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi

    territorial waters. This fact has been confirmed by the Iraqi Foreign

    Ministry."

    Only it wasn't, was it? Now click on the pic taken by one of HMS Cornwall's

    helicopters immediately after the Iranian's had left with the arrested RN

    and Marines and load the higher resolution image. If using IE7 you can zoom from the "PAGE" menu. Now compare the GPS location to that in the report.

    ————-

    I checked the readings (see first picture enlarged) and they appear different to those given in the article text. Is this a discrepancy amounting to disinformation?

  • Strategist

    Well done for turning the tide, Craig.

    Now, any comment on Patrick Cockburn's amazing reports in Tuesday's and today's Indie ("Revealed: America's covert mission to kidnap top Iranian security officials"- see http://www.counterpunch.org/patrick04032007.html)…?

    The story is quite surprising – he's saying that US forces cocked up an attempt to kidnap Mohammed Jafari, deputy head of the Iranian National Security Council and General Minojahar Frouzanda, chief of intelligence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, when they were on an official visit to Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan (ending up kidnapping five junior officials they didn't want instead). The equivalent, as Cockburn points out, of the Iranians trying to kidnap the head of the CIA. These guys were on their way back from an official visit to the Iraqi President Talabani, the story says. Quite astonishingly lawless behaviour by the Americans, demonstrating total contempt for the Iraqi government, never mind the Iranians!

    This story, if correct, appears to me to require a complete change in how the Iranian govt's behaviour is being viewed, and a real insight into just how provocative to the Iranians the Americans are being. Don't expect it to, though! But fair play to Patrick Cockburn for getting the story and the good ol' "Indebindy" for giving such prominence to it!

  • George of the Jungle

    You know, Blair's immediate knee-jerk and moronic reaction to this unfortunate uncident reminds me of the lies and blustering he indulged in over Hussein's WMD, Niger yellow cake, missiles that could hit England in 40 minutes, and biological weapons – all of which that liar Blair used as reasons to be the lapdog of the bigger liar Bush and help the US implement a completely illegal invasion and destruction of a sovreign nation. An invasion which has destroyed Iraq, and killed hundreds of thousands of its citizens.

    All I hope for is that the world community and the EU and Britain come to its senses soon and take all the criminals like Blair to the Iternational War Crimes Tribunal Court (or whatever it is called), and that he spends the rest of his miserable, lying, money-grubbing existence behind bars… which is all he deserves.

    I am a GIS consultant, and a professional cartogrpaher, and have worked extensively with GIS software named "LOTS" (Law Of The Sea) with Turkey in helping them establish territorial waters and boudaries.

    It is a frighteningly complicated process, fraught with hurdles that have to be negotiated with other neighbouring countries, and I know that the border between Iraq and Iran on the seas has never been sanctioned nor ratified.

    So, when Blair and illiterate DoD navy people come out and spew all sorts of lies in flashy photos and maps (doesn't that remind you so much of Powell's debacle at the UN with the same sort of lying maps and photos), then I know that it is time to write and express my disgust at the moronic and uneducated behaviour of supposed leaders in the UK military and political circles.

    Thank God I don't live in the UK any more – Hurray for Bulgaria.

  • praguetwin

    Well done Craig. You are the only person I have found out there who called it like it is from the beginning.

    I'm still trying to figure out why the Iranians changed their story as to the location of the incident, or for that matter, why they used the same type of "undeniable" evidence and lines on a map that the Brittish did.

    Both sides seem equally foolish in this regard.

  • Craig

    Pratwin

    I think that we have two very fookish governments here. My own reading is that both political leadership's first instinct was to make political propaganda, especially as both the Iranian and British governments are going through periods of deep unpopularity at gome.

    GreenGorilla the NOD explains that the Indian ship "Dragged its anchor". It is possible. As there is no clear boundary, the difference doesn't make it any plainer whose waters…

    Craig

  • Craig

    Strategist,

    On Patrick Cockburn, yes a fascinating article. Assuming his Kurdish sources are telling the truth, amazing that the US would attempt to kidnap two such high ranking Iranian officials. But he makes a completely unsubstantiated leap in saying that is a direct cause of this event.

  • Friend

    Green Gorilla said:

    "I checked the readings (see first picture enlarged) and they appear different to those given in the article text. Is this a discrepancy amounting to disinformation?"

    It may be or there may be another explanation. We have submitted a FOI request to the MOD to try and find out.

    See: http://craigmurrayfriends.blogspot.com

  • Chuck Unsworth

    Re the Cockburn article. I think it likely that this is founded in truth. After all, in recent years the USA has carried out similar kidnappings elsewhere – hence Guantanamo, Rendition etc. There's a distinct lack of skill and/or integrity on the part of these 'special forces', who have never been particularly squeamish.

    The recent one-sided changes to our extradition legislation have merely served to assist and legalise this process. US operatives are now actively supported by the judicial processes and police forces of the UK.

    That said, I'd agree that the two matters are not linked. The attempt to capture senior Iranians is doubtless part of the ongoing covert activity. That operation has been running for many years now, and is certainly not an isolated action. US Intelligence forces continue to operate in many different locations. No doubt America will not be content until it can legally extradite individuals at will from any sovereign country in the world.

  • johnf

    Strangely, in the States the Patrick Cockburn article has been given most prominence on the highly influential rightwing site of Matt Drudge, and by Fox News. I can't work out why.

  • Randal

    "But he makes a completely unsubstantiated leap in saying that is a direct cause of this event."

    This is true, of course, Craig. But it is no more unsubstantiated than all the speculation we get fed constantly by the BBC, Times, Telegraph, Guardian etc about "Iranian regime hardliners are doing this" for this or that nefarious purpose.

    It's all speculation, but personally I trust Cockburn more than most.

  • greengorilla

    Thank you, Friend, for your reply. I note you say in your blog http://craigmurrayfriends.blogspot.com/

    "It can be observed that the coordinates on the Garmin GPS handset photo on the MOD site are different from the coordinates quoted in the text of the same press release (N 29 50.174 vs. N 29 50.36 and E 48 43.544 vs. E 48 43.08).

    It therefore appears, that according to the GPS data, the ship was actually 0.5 nautical miles further east (towards Iran) than stated and 0.2 nautical miles further south."

    It'll be interesting to see the MoD reply which I hope you'll publicise.

  • nullo

    Craig,

    There is one thing about your allegations (can I call them that?) that I have not understood. Is your claim that, because those boundaries were drawn in 1975, they no longer apply? Or is your claim that the boundaries drawn in 1975 never applied to the area of sea were the incident took place?

  • nullo

    P.S.

    I looked around your blog, and it looks as though your claim is the latter, that the 1975 boundaries never applied where the incident took place.

    So i guess your claim is that where the incident took place there are no agreed boundaries, and that what the brits published as boundaries are just their own (and the iraqis?) provisional working boundaries. Now the question is: does Iran work under different provisional boundaries? I think that must be what you want to claim.

    But the problem with that is this report that the iranians changed their version of events on the position of the 15; if they indeed gave a second position, then that would suggest that they acknowledged the provisional working boundaries provided by the royal navy, and wanted to show that the 15 were in iranian waters even according to those provisional boundaries.

  • b

    Craig, you may like this appreciation of your insight about sea-borders:

    "Iran can notch at least one victory in the battle over the 15 seized British sailors, who now appear set to return to Britain as early as Thursday. The dispute, U.S. military and diplomatic officials say, has sparked debate over the very murky question of who rightly controls what areas of the Persian Gulf.

    In Washington, the clash has prompted at least one high-level meeting of diplomats, lawyers and cartographers at the State Department this week to try to clarify the U.S. position on exactly where the international boundaries fall within the strategically vital Gulf, a major transit point for crude oil.

    "The lines in many places range from ill-defined to undefined," said one U.S. official involved in the debate, which some think could take on the dimensions of a international legal case.

    U.S. military officials say that Iran scored at least a minor triumph by forcing Britain to break away from the rest of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq to hold one-on-one talks with Iran over Western naval operations in the Gulf. Britain is said to be pushing back strongly against U.S. plans to hold another round of naval maneuvers ? this time involving destroyers and cruisers ? in the Gulf as early as next week."
    http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2007/04/04/calming-

  • Craig

    Nullo,

    Err, no. The story that Iran gve two coordinates, one each side of the line, came from the British MOD, who put out that tory when they published their so called bondary mep. In fact the Iranians had given four coordinates, and they represented a course. Remember these were boats and they were moving.

    Most of the discussion has fallen off the front page of this weblog. Click on War and Iran in categories to see more. Among the comments is a superimposition of British and Iranian border maps which shows they are different.

  • Strategist

    Re the Independent story about why the Americans are holding 5 junior Iranian officials captured in Arbil, Iraqi Kurdistan ("Revealed: America's covert mission to kidnap top Iranian security officials") – OK, agreed that the Indie has probably oversold the idea of a direct link to the capture of the British sailors & marines in the Gulf, but the basic point that the level of provocation of the Iranians is pretty breathtaking, and that we are hearing little about it from the mainstream media, stands.

    I have read rumours (and the British redtops may even have bragged about it, can't remember), that the SAS are active within Iranian territory, that covert forces are fomenting trouble in ethnic Arab Khuzestan province inside Iran, that warplanes based on US.aircraft carriers in the Gulf are violating Iranian airspace and so on. All designed, no doubt, to provoke Iranian reaction (thus stirring up anti-Iranian sentiment among US public opinion), and forming part of activities designed to keep the option open to bomb Iran at some point this year, if the Bush regime's hardline faction (Dick Cheney etc) thought they could get away with it.

  • Strategist

    Er… on second thoughts, I probably oughtn't to complain in the same post of media blackout of provocation of Iran by the "coalition of the willing" and yet of tabloids bragging about SAS covert ops inside Iran – but it is late, and I hope you all get my general drift… which is Chomsky's dictum "When they do it to us, that's an outrage/terrorism/a breach of international law [insert as applicable]; when we do it to them, why that's so normal it's simply not worth mentioning."

  • Randal

    Craig,

    "The story that Iran gve two coordinates, one each side of the line, came from the British MOD, who put out that tory when they published their so called bondary mep. In fact the Iranians had given four coordinates, and they represented a course. Remember these were boats and they were moving."

    This is something I hadn't heard before! Is this formally admitted? If not, how reliable are the sources and how willing to stand up?

    Seems to me, if this is the case, someone at the MoD has some serious explaining to do, since it was universally reported (as far as I'm aware) that the Iranians had changed their first coordinates "after it was pointed out to them that the first set were in British waters".

    I recall that my first reaction was scepticism (as sadly one has learned to treat British government pronouncements these days) – after all, since the boundary given by the Brits was not accepted by the Iranians why should they make such a change?

    This point was one that obviously weighed very heavily in popular understanding of the issue – as some kind of de facto admission of guilt on the part of Iran.

    If there was deliberate deceit, and it can be proved, then I think that is something our media should be seriously making an issue out of.

  • Randal

    Strategist

    "I have read rumours (and the British redtops may even have bragged about it, can't remember), that the SAS are active within Iranian territory, that covert forces are fomenting trouble in ethnic Arab Khuzestan province inside Iran, that warplanes based on US.aircraft carriers in the Gulf are violating Iranian airspace and so on."

    Not just Khuzestan, Baluchistan also:

    ABC News Exclusive: The Secret War Against Iran
    http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/04/abc_n

    The MEK I think operates mainly in the west, with added British subversion in Khuzestan, and US sponsored islamists in Baluchistan.

    And yet if Iran were to apply the Bush doctrine and respond violently, that would of course be a shocking act of aggression out of a clear blue sky. They would clearly only be doing it because they hate our freedoms.

  • nullo

    Craig said:

    "Among the comments is a superimposition of British and Iranian border maps which shows they are different."

    can't find it – can anyone help?

    cheers,

    nullo

  • Craig

    Randal,

    The "Iraq gave two coordinates" line was first given at the MOD press conference at which they unveiled the "Boundary map". It was simply then repeated ad nauseam by the media (and blogosphere) as fact. Jon Snow did a good deconstruction on Channel 4 News. Maybe someone can find the reference.

    Nullo – see today's posting on Iraqi foreign minister comments.

  • Craig

    Nullo,

    I've found the map overlay – its in comments by "Blackace" on a 2 April posting "Possible problems with the position of Indian Ship?"

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