It did appear in Iran, from Press TV dot IR, on two different days, under two different headlines ("Britons detention is Iran's right: ex-British diplomat" and "Murray: Detention of British marines legitimate"), but with identical text:
A former British diplomat says it is Iran's legal right to protect its sovereignty and the detained Britons should not have entered Iranian waters.I've been thinking of blogging about this story, and wondering whether it were true or false. If you focus on what we've been told about Iran, you might tend to think the story was probably false. But if you focus on who's been telling us about Iran, you might think otherwise.
The UK's former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, told the Daily Mirror on Monday, "In international law the Iranian government were not out of order in detaining foreign military personnel in waters to which they have a legitimate claim."
For the Royal Navy to be interdicting shipping within the twelve mile limit of territorial seas, in a region they know full well is subject to a maritime boundary dispute, is unnecessarily provocative, he added.
Murray noted that, "This is especially true as apparently they were not looking for weapons but for smuggled vehicles attempting to evade car duty. What has the evasion of Iranian or Iraqi taxes got to do with the Royal Navy? The ridiculous illogic of the Blair mess gets us further into trouble."
Murray then requested "the Iranian authorities" to "now hand the men back immediately," arguing that "Plainly they were not engaged in piracy or in hostilities against Iran."
He said the Iranians well demonstrated the ability to exercise effective sovereignty over their waters.
How can you decide? Here's one idea: wait and see what happens. That's what I did. And soon enough there was another story, from Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) via Muslim News dot Co dot UK. This time the headline reads: "Iran's arrest of sailors was legitimate, says former UK envoy" and the text has a few more details:
Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray Monday supported Iran's decision to arrest 15 UK marines in the Persian Gulf last week.Did you catch the crucial detail? I'll give you the key paragraph again:
"In international law the Iranian government were not out of order in detaining foreign military personnel in waters to which they have a legitimate claim," Murray said, who was also a previous head of Foreign Office's maritime section, carrying out negotiations on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
"For the Royal Navy, to be interdicting shipping within the twelve mile limit of territorial seas in a region they know full well is subject to maritime boundary dispute, is unnecessarily provocative," he said.
The former envoy said that this was "especially true as apparently they were not looking for weapons but for smuggled vehicles attempting to evade car duty."
"What has the evasion of Iranian or Iraqi taxes go to do with the Royal Navy?" he questioned in comments on his webpage, set up after he was sacked from his post in 2004 after criticizing British foreign policy.
While working for the Foreign Office, Murray was also head of the UK's Embargo Surveillance Centre, analyzing Iraqi attempts to evade sanctions and providing information to UK military forces and to other governments to effect physical enforcement of the embargo.
He said that under international law, Britain would have been allowed to enter Iranian territorial waters if in "hot pursuit" of terrorists, slavers or pirates."
But added "they weren't doing any of those things."
"Plainly, they were not engaged in piracy or in hostilities against Iran. The Iranians can feel content that they have demonstrated the ability to exercise effective sovereignty over the waters they claim," the former envoy said.
He criticized the "ridiculous logic" of Prime Minister Tony Blair, saying he was creating a mess that "gets us further into trouble."
The Daily Mirror, which has been an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war, reminded its readers Monday that "if the UK had never joined the disastrous invasion of Iraq, the 15 would not have been put in a position where they could be seized."
In its editorial on the incident, it also said that "US threats in the recent past to launch military strikes on Iran have inflamed tensions."
"What has the evasion of Iranian or Iraqi taxes go to do with the Royal Navy?" he questioned in comments on his webpage, set up after he was sacked from his post in 2004 after criticizing British foreign policy.Aha! His webpage! I know it. I've been there. I've got it bookmarked. Why didn't I just check it out before? LOL @ WP!!
Guess what? The Iranians are not lying about this one! Murray has done three posts about this situation and nowhere does he contradict any of the quotes attributed to him above. Links and excerpts follow (and the emphasis is mine).
March 23, 2007 : British Marines Captured By Iranians
The capture of British Marines by Iran has happened before, then on the Shatt-al-Arab waterway. It will doubtless be used by those seeking to bang the war drum against Iran, though I imagine it will be fairly quickly resolved.March 26, 2007: British Marines Captured By Iran
Before people get too carried away, the following is worth bearing in mind. I write as a former Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The Iranians claimed the British soldiers had strayed into Iranian territorial waters. If they had, then the Iranians had every right to detain them for questioning.
The difficulty is that the maritime delimitation in the North West of the Persian Gulf, between Iraq, Kuwait and Iran, has never been resolved. It is not therefore a question of just checking your GPS to see where you are. This is a perfectly legitimate dispute, in which nobody is particularly at fault. Lateral maritime boundaries from a coastal border point are intensely complicated things, especially where islands and coastal banks become a factor.
Disputes are not unusual. I was personally heavily involved in negotiating British maritime boundaries with Ireland, France and Denmark just ten years ago, and not all our own boundaries are resolved even now. There is nothing outlandish about Iranian claims, and we have no right in law to be boarding Iranian or other shipping in what may well be Iranian waters.
The UN Convention on the Law of The Sea carries a heavy presumption on the right of commercial vessels to "innocent passage", especially through straits like Hormuz and in both territorial and international waters. You probably won't read this elsewhere in these jingoistic times but, in international law, we are very probably in the wrong. As long as the Iranians neither mistreat our Marines nor wilfully detain them too long, they have the right.
I explained that in international law the Iranian government were not out of order in detaining foreign military personnel in waters to which they have a legitimate claim. For the Royal Navy to be interdicting shipping within the twelve mile limit of territorial seas in a region they know full well is subject to maritime boundary dispute, is unneccessarily provocative. This is especially true as apparently they were not looking for weapons but for smuggled vehicles attempting to evade car duty. What has the evasion of Iranian or Iraqi taxes go to do with the Royal Navy? The ridiculous illogic of the Blair mess gets us further into trouble.March 27, 2007: Captured Marines (Again)
Incidentally, they would under international law have been allowed to enter Iranian territorial waters if in "Hot pursuit" of terrorists, slavers or pirates. But they weren't doing any of those things.
Having said all that, the Iranian authorities, their point made, should now hand the men back immediately. Plainly they were not engaged in piracy or in hostilities against Iran. The Iranians can feel content that they have demonstrated the ability to exercise effective sovereignty over the waters they claim.
Any further detention of the men would now be unlawful and bellicose. One of the great problems facing those of us striving hard to prevent a further disastrous war, this time on Iran, is that the Iranian government is indeed full of theocratic nutters.
My two earlier posts have caused quite a stir, so here are some further observations.I've snipped some technical but nonetheless very interesting material about international boundaries. Click the link and read the whole post if you're interested.
Sadly, but perhaps predictably, both the British and Iranian governments are now acting like idiots.
Tony Blair has let it be known that he is "utterly confident" that the British personnel were in Iraqi waters. He has of course never been known for his expertise in the Law of the Sea. But let us contrast this political certainty with the actual knowledge of the Royal Navy Commander of the operation on which the captives were taken.
Before the spin doctors could get to him, Commodore Lambert said:
"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they were in Iraqi territorial 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".
That is precisely right. The boundary between Iran and Iraq in the northern Persian Gulf has never been fixed. (Within the Shatt-al-Arab itself a line was fixed, but was to be updated every ten years because the waterway shifts, according to the treaty. As it has not been updated in over twenty years, whether it is still valid is a moot point. But it appears this incident occurred well south of the Shatt anyway.) This is a perfectly legitimate dispute. The existence of this dispute will clearly be indicated on HMS Cornwall's charts, which are in front of Commodore Lambert, but not of Mr Blair.
Until a boundary is agreed, you could only be certain that the personnel were in Iraqi territorial waters if they were within twelve miles of the coast and, at the same time, more than twelve miles from any island, spit, bar or sandbank claimed by Iran (or Kuwait).
That is very hard to judge as the British government refuse to give out the coordinates where the men were captured. If they really are utterly certain, I find that incomprehensible. Everyone knows the Gulf is teeming with British vessels and personnel, so the position of units a few days ago can hardly be valuable intelligence.
Here's the rest:
Anyway, the UK was plainly wrong to be ultra provocative in disputed waters. They would be allowed to enter Iranian territorial seas in hot pursuit of terrorists, pirates or slavers, but not to carry out other military operations.I do believe a blog or two may have covered it.
The Iranians had a right to detain the men if they were in seas legitimately claimed as territorial by Iran. Indeed, it is arguable that if a government makes a claim of sovereignty it rather has to enforce it, possession being nine parts of international law. But now the Iranian government is being very foolish, and itself acting illegally, by not releasing the men having made its point.
The story leaked by Russian intelligence claiming knowledge of US plans to attack Iran on 6 April has had great publicity in Iran, if very little here.
Personally I doubt it is true. But it seems to me a definite risk that the Iranians will decide to keep the marines against that contingency.After all this, the former ambassador concludes with good ideas for each side:
That would be very unfortunate. The Iranian government, by continuing to hold the British personnel, are foolishly providing new impetus to Bush and Blair, whose attempts to bang the war drum against Iran have so far met profound public scepticism. We don't need any more oil wars.
If Blair actually sought the release of our people, rather than anti-Iranian propaganda, he would stop making stupid macho noises and give an assurance that we intend to resolve not only this problem but all disagreements with Iran by peaceful means, and give specific reassurance that no attack is imminent.Now that's diplomacy!
But if the Iranian government wait for Blair to behave well, the marines will rot for ever. They should let the men (and woman) go now, with lots of signs of friendship, thus further wrongfooting Bush and Blair.
So ... where are the British press? As far as I can tell, the only national paper which has mentioned him recently was the Guardian, in a piece headlined "Iran's Border Muddles Captivity Issue" which doesn't go nearly as far as Murray does in the text quoted above. It does quote him in this context:
``Until a boundary is agreed, you could only be certain that the personnel were in Iraqi territorial waters if they were within 12 miles of the (Iraqi) coast and, at the same time, more than 12 miles from any island, spit, bar or sand bank claimed by Iran,'' said Craig Murray, former chief of the Maritime Section of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.The article also quotes Richard Schofield of King's College in London, whom it calls "an expert on the waterway", as saying, "We have to accept the British claim with as much salt as the Iranian claim," and "There's a lot of room for making mischief, if that's what you want to do."
That means ships operating near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab - where marshes and sandbars make navigation difficult and where ``ownership'' of the water is ambiguous - could easily run into trouble.
But it stops short of presenting Murray's position in full.
Is that "censorship"? or "good news judgement"? or is it "half a loaf is better than none"?
And what's with all the other "news" on this topic? Do they all treat it as if the British were definitely in the right and the Iranians who captured them were definitely in the wrong? Or not? We're all reading and hearing different things; and I am interested in how you see this story being played.
Maybe more to the point, Craig Murray says the British are the ones who are being unnecessarily provocative. Is anybody else painting it that way?
Personally, I would love to see Iran "let the men (and woman) go now, with lots of signs of friendship, thus further wrongfooting Bush and Blair."
But we shall see. Like it or not, we're still dealing with a government that's full of theocratic nutters. Or maybe two of them. Or maybe even more.
But what if the Iranians gave back all fifteen Brits, and give them each a gorgeous Persian carpet for themselves, another for their commanders a third for the queen? And what if they gave each of them a few thousand euros worth of credit at the Iranian Oil Bourse? How could Britain bomb them then?
Just a thought. Use it if you like.