Iran strikes blow in propaganda war

Iran's blame game with Britain over the capture of 15 sailors appears to have been defused after the Iranian president announced they were to be released, but the claim game is just beginning.

Iran strikes blow in propaganda war

Iran's blame game with Britain over the capture of15 sailors appears to have been defused after the Iranian presidentannounced they were to be released, but the claim game is just beginning.

MahmoudAhmadinejad says his country's decision to free the soldiers after 13 days wasa gift to the British people.

In theprocess, his country was able to deflect attention from its nuclear programmeand prove it could cause trouble in the Middle Eastif it wanted to.

But itdid not get the main thing it sought - a public apology from London for entering Iranian waters.

Britain, which said its crew was in Iraqiwaters when seized, said it never offered a quid pro quo, but relied on quietdiplomacy.

TonyBlair, the British prime minister, said London's"measured approach" had been effective.

"Throughoutwe have taken a measured approach - firm but calm, not negotiating, but notconfronting either," adding a message to the Iranian people that "webear you no ill will."

However, Iran's announcement coincided with the releasein Baghdad of an Iranian diplomat seized in Iraq in earlyFebruary.

Iran had blamed US forces for the abduction but the US deniedinvolvement.

Iranianstate media also said five Iranian officials captured by US forces in northern Iraq in Januaryand accused of seeking to stir trouble were expected to receive their firstvisit by an Iranian diplomat soon.

JamesDobbins, a former Bush administration envoy to Afghanistan, said: "It allowedthe Iranians to demonstrate that they can't be trifled with. They have acapacity to take action, and that will undoubtedly make people morecareful."

The US cautiously welcomed Iran'sannouncement, although Dick Cheney, the vice-president, said "it wasunfortunate that they were ever taken in the first place".

He saidhe hoped there would be no "quid pro quo" for their release.

Morecareful

But what Iran might have won is a more careful Westernapproach to the Middle East power.

The US says its policy is to arrest Iranians in Iraq who arefunnelling arms or money to Shia fighters there. But it may be more cautious ifit thinks Iranis willing to retaliate by seizing US troops.

Iran may also have been trying tomoderate Ahmadinejad's hardline reputation, allowing him to announce therelease to appear benevolent.

Or, itmight have aimed to simply show that it can compromise, which may help it inits dispute with the USover its nuclear programme.

But someanalysts said Iran's actionshad caused it to be distrusted more by the international community, even if Tehran may have scored aslight propaganda victory at home.

Ahmadinejadsaid the British government was "not brave enough" to admit the crewhad been in Iranian waters when it was captured.

But hesaid Britainhad sent a letter to the Iranian foreign ministry pledging that the incident"will not happen again".

Britain's foreign ministry would not givedetails about the letter but said its position was clear that the detained crewhad been in Iraqi waters.

Ahmadinejaddeclared that even though Iranhad the right to put the Britons on trial, he had "pardoned" them tomark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, celebrated on March 30 this year,and the coming Easter holiday.

"Thispardon is a gift to the British people," he said.

'Welcome'

After thenews conference, Iranian television showed a beaming Ahmadinejad on the stepsof the presidential palace shaking hands with the Britons decked out inbusiness suits and Leading Seaman Faye Turney, the only female crewmember, wearing an Islamic head scarf.

One ofthe British men told Ahmadinejad: "Your people have been really kind tous, and we appreciate it very much." Another said: "We are gratefulfor your forgiveness."

Ahmadinejadresponded in Farsi: "You are welcome."

But itwas not just Iran and Britain whowere trying to come off looking good in this standoff.

Syria, Iran's close ally, said it hadplayed a role in winning the release of the sailors.

Walidal-Moallem, Syria's foreignminister, said in Damascus on Wednesday: "Syria exerciseda sort of quiet diplomacy to solve this problem and encourage dialogue betweenthe two parties."

Thebreakthrough appeared to have caught the British government by surprise.

OnTuesday, Margaret Beckett, the foreign secretary, had told reporters not toexpect a quick end to the standoff.

Someanalysts say Iran's supremeleader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, decided the crisis had gone far enough at atime when Tehranfaces mounting pressure over its nuclear programme.

PatrickClawson, deputy director for research at The Washington Institute for Near EastPolicy, explained: "The thing ... about Iran's negotiating strategy is thatthey say, 'No, no, no' until it suddenly becomes 'Yes'."

Whetherthat is a sign of internal dissent in Iranor finely honed, clever brinkmanship, Iran clearly gained some thingsfrom the dispute - at least enough to make the West cautious that it would bewilling to enter into such a standoff again.

Observersfear that the 13-day crisis may be precursor of things to come in Iran'sconfrontations with the West.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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