Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Interesting And Productive Days For Former Ambassador Craig Murray

Regular readers of this space may recall that a former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who just happens to be an expert on disputed maritime boundaries, disputed the story told by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) as well as the map the MoD issued "supporting" its position in the so-called "hostage crisis".

As you probably know unless you've been hibernating, the Iranians have 15 British sailors who were detained after boarding an Indian merchant ship in water that the British said were clearly Iraq's, while Iran has claimed them for its own.

Ambassador Murray's sudden presence in the public sphere -- with actual information apparently proving the opposite of what the Brits were officially saying -- displeased those who would prefer a fact-free zone, and predictably his calm and reasoned words were greeted with all manner of heat and very little light.

A reckless fool writing a blog for Foreign Policy (propaganda arm of the CFR and one of the more overt neocon mouthpieces) called him a "gadfly", which is not one of the more common terms for former Ambassadors. But it's quite accurate, at least in the eyes of those whose preferred operating mixture is three parts spin and one part hate. Plenty of others (the neocon mouthpiece symphony?) called him much worse.

Fortunately -- and more to the point -- Craig Murray has received some support from serious and neutral places and his point of view now seems to be gaining traction -- or possibly even holding sway already, even as we speak.

As documented over the last few days on his website... (The following short excerpts are selected from long and very interesting pieces, and I invite you to read them although I know most of you don't have time to do so. And so, without further ado...)

The upshot of the brouhaha is as follows:

April 1, 2007: First step towards a realistic approach?
Many thanks to the Mail on Sunday for being the first bit of the mainstream media ready to give a fair hearing to what I have been saying, and to try and understand the situation rather than just belt out propaganda.

At a working level, Whitehall is trying to get reality back into the British position, though this may get stomped on again by the spin doctors. One of my many friends within the FCO has seen minutes between officials discussing "Craig Murray's points" on the border question and whether admitting the border is unclear could be a path to getting our people back (Freedom of Information request for that minuting, anyone?).

The Observer today gives the first hint that the MOD may be looking to backtrack on its unsustainable border claims:

"But the Ministry of Defence hinted for the first time it may have made mistakes surrounding the incident. An inquiry has been commissioned to explore 'navigational' issues around the kidnapping and aspects of maritime law."
April 1: German Armed Forces University: British Boundary Map "Fictitious"

Translated from the German:

In today's printed version of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Prof Khan of the University for the Federal Armed Forces in Munich confirms Craig Murrays statement:

"In their presentation, the British have effectively drawn a fictitious line in their attempt to prove where exactly the soldiers were when taken captive instead of showing a clear border. They couldn't have done the latter in any case as the border between Iran and Iraq around Shatt el-Arab is not clearly identifiable."
April 2, 2007: Back to Normal
It has been a very hectic few days, but they have been productive. I seem to have helped convince the mainstream media of the obvious truth that the maritime boundaries in this part of the Gulf are disputed and fuzzy, and that the real situation is much less clear than the British map. The BBC has at last started routinely to refer to the boundary as disputed and unclear. The support from the Mail on Sunday and Daily Mail helped enormously to turn the tide, as did the serious piece in the New York Times.

Last night I did Newsnight, BBC News 24 and a pre-record for this morning's Breakfast TV. In all cases the BBC introduction stated that the border was disputed and complex as reported fact before I started, which made it much easier.
April 3, 2007: Turning the Tide in the Gulf
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.

"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.
The former ambassador is a gentleman and a scholar, as well as a man of peace and goodwill. But we knew that a long time ago, didn't we? And in fact, that's exactly why he is no longer an ambassador, isn't it?
Does the DHS still allow us to ask such questions?
Yeah, but you don't get any answers anymore.
Right, but that's not DHS, that's FOI.