The Guardian: Britain is to protest formally to Iran as part of a “recalibration” of relations with the Islamic Republic since the seizure of 15 sailors and marines in the Shatt al-Arab waterway this month. The Guardian
· Tough response expected after review of incident
· Anger persists at Tehran’s claim of a great victory
Simon Tisdall in Tehran
Britain is to protest formally to Iran as part of a “recalibration” of relations with the Islamic Republic since the seizure of 15 sailors and marines in the Shatt al-Arab waterway this month.
A British diplomat here said yesterday: “We are preparing a considered response as part of a ‘lessons learned’ exercise. We are not going to take hasty measures. But we’re not going to let them shrug the whole thing off either. We are not talking about reprisals … but we are going to draw the right conclusions. There will be repercussions in terms of policy options.”
Britain’s diplomatic protest is expected as soon as a review of Anglo-Iranian relations, ordered by the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, is complete. Britain’s views will be conveyed to the Iranian ambassador to London, Rasoul Movahedian. The matter is also likely to be raised with the foreign ministry in Tehran.
“Non-engagement is not an option. They’re not talking about cutting off diplomatic relations,” a western source said. “But they are considering carefully how to calibrate their message to the Iranian people in future.”
The British move risks reigniting the Shatt al-Arab row. It could also antagonise the Tehran government at a time when talks on two key areas of contention with the west – Iran’s nuclear activities and its role in Iraq – may be about to resume.
Britain’s determination not to let the subject drop reflects continuing anger with the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the 13-day ordeal of the hostages. The incident was widely portrayed by Iranian and Arab media as a humiliation for a former colonial power that once ruled much of the Middle East.
The Iranian government continues to label the affair a great Islamic victory. For its part, Britain suspended inspection patrols in the Shatt al-Arab.
An Iranian official said: “We were very shocked at the low strength and the low experience of the British sailors and the slow reaction by the British forces. We didn’t expect it. The army and also the navy are very interested in this. They are in good heart. They [Britain”> used to be an empire.”
A leading Iranian journalist said the incident could also have a lasting impact on Iran’s troubled ties with Iraq. “Tweaking the old British lion’s tail also sends a message to the Iraqis that when the Americans leave, it will be us and you, and we could do this to you, too,” he said.
British disquiet stems partly from suggestions from Iran that Britain had been guilty of repeated territorial incursions and that it was warned in writing eight days before the incident last month to keep its forces out of Iranian waters. British officials dismiss the claims as “fairytales”.
Similar assertions in the conservative Kayhan newspaper and elsewhere – that the British government apologised for the incident in a diplomatic note – are also seen as deliberate disinformation. Asked this week whether Britain had apologised, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, the Iranian foreign ministry’s official spokesman, declined to repeat the claim.
Iranian opposition parties have attacked the Ahmadinejad government’s handling of the affair, saying it damaged Iran’s reputation. Mohammad Atrianfar, a leading critic, said: “It was done deliberately and it was a foolish mistake.”