Tony Blair continued to firm his stance towards the Iranians today, stating that Britain will not bargain for the release of the sailors and Marines that Iran has taken hostage. Instead, he demanded that Iran unconditionally release the fifteen detainees, and suspended all communications with the Islamic Republic except for talks specifically about this crisis:
Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday that Britain would not negotiate over British sailors and marines held hostage by Iran. In an interview with ITV News, Blair again called for the unconditional return of the 15 Royal Navy personnel who were seized by Iranian authorities last week.
Britain’s Sky News meanwhile said Iran had released another letter by captured sailor Faye Turney, this time calling for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
“The important thing for us is to get them back safe and sound, but we can’t enter into some basis of bargaining,” Blair said. “What you have to do when you are engaged with people like the Iranian regime, you have to keep explaining to them, very patiently, what it is necessary to do and at the same time make them fully aware there are further measures that will be taken if they’re not prepared to be reasonable.
“What you can’t do is end up negotiating over hostages; end up saying there’s some quid pro quo or tit for tat; that’s not acceptable,” he said.
Iranian nuclear negotiator Ari Larijani has been assigned to handle the diplomacy on this crisis, which gives an idea of how critical the Iranians see this. Larijani started off by claiming that the British government has “miscalculated” by refusing to offer an apology for trespassing in Iranian waters. However, it seems clear that, at least so far, the miscalculation has come from Iran.
Teheran knew better than to try this with Americans, because they know that the US Navy would blow any Iranian boat out of the water before they would allow Americans to get captured. The British, they figured, would play ball, and at least during the initial confrontation, they were correct. Since then, Blair has not followed the playbook — and he has made it clear that Britain will keep all of its response options on the table. “Further measures” is diplo-speak for high-powered renovation of Iranian ports, at least in theory.
It comes at a strange moment for the Iranians. They had worked with the British ever since the 1979 revolution, even after the US hostage crisis that broke diplomatic ties between Iran and America. Britain had played a moderating influence on American hard-line approaches to Iran, even after the exposure of their nuclear program. They have worked for years to get the US to agree to restoring relations as a part of a solution to the nuclear standoff, even with Iran funding Islamist terrorism around the world.
Now Iran has insulted and injured one of its connections to the West. Britain exported over $700 million in goods to Iran last year and is one of their major trading partners. An embargo by Britain would hurt an already stumbling economy, and it would cause the Iranian people to wonder how many other nations Mahmoud Ahmadinejad intends to annoy into military action against Iran.
The only miscalculation appears to have been made in Teheran. If they’re not careful, they’re going to miscalculate themselves into losing a ship or a port as a response to the act of war Iran committed this week.