The Times – Leading Article: Shortly after the detention of 15 Royal Navy personnel by Iranian forces in the Gulf yesterday, the Iranian Ambassador to London was summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The setting may have been diplomatic, but there was no call for overly diplomatic language. In Iraq, Iranian meddling and arms stand second only to sectarian hatred as contributing factors to the daily violence. The Times
The UN must unite to punish Iran for its provocations
Shortly after the detention of 15 Royal Navy personnel by Iranian forces in the Gulf yesterday, the Iranian Ambassador to London was summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The setting may have been diplomatic, but there was no call for overly diplomatic language. In Iraq, Iranian meddling and arms stand second only to sectarian hatred as contributing factors to the daily violence.
In Basra, according to a British colonel stationed there, Iranian agents are in fact prime movers behind most of the bloodshed. In the Middle East as a whole, Iran is a longstanding sponsor of terrorism. Its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has also called openly for Israel to be wiped off the map and has consistently flouted the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty.
Iran can hardly be said to have earned the respect and forbearance it continues to demand of the wider world. Even so, Washington has given Mr Ahmadinejad a visa to travel to New York, where he is expected to denounce the US and the UN today for the tightened sanctions that the UN Security Council is considering in view of his failure to suspend uranium enrichment.
Mr Ahmadinejad affects to lecture the international community from a position of strength. That strength is easily exaggerated. Iraqs continuing instability has offered him the role of regional bully a role that he has seized and none too skilfully disguised as the promotion of Shia solidarity. But his domestic support is weaker than the crowds bussed to his frequent rallies indicate, and the Iranian economy is acutely vulnerable to a down-turn in energy prices.
The effect of limited UN sanctions imposed in December was evident two months later, when Moscow disclosed that Tehran had missed two $25 million payments for Russian assistance at its Bushehr nuclear complex. Moscows response was even more significant: Russian work at Bushehr has been suspended indefinitely, and many of its engineers have been withdrawn. President Putin may be vexed by the Iranian nonpayment, but he also sees in it a chance to demonstrate both clout and responsibility in world affairs. In the process, Iran has lost the only permanent Security Council member that it could rely upon to state its case in the confrontation over its nuclear ambitions. It is time to capitalise on this seismic shift with tougher sanctions and closer US-European cooperation to enforce them.
The proposal before the Security Council would ban all Iranian arms exports and double the number of Iranian companies and individuals subject to having their foreign assets frozen. Despite equivocation from Indonesia, Qatar and South Africa, the measure is expected to win approval.
That is when the real work of ending the Iranian nuclear dream begins. Success depends initially on limiting the US dollar earnings with which Tehran funds nuclear projects and investment in its decrepit oil infrastructure. A second phase of sanctions could follow, aimed at oil firms seeking to do business with Iran and governments willing to offer Tehran lines of credit that could be misused. The plan has White House and US congressional backing; it deserves UN and EU support as well.
Royal Navy officers in the Gulf said yesterday that they hoped the sailors detained by Iran were victims of a tactical misunderstanding. The truth is that they are pawns in a global confrontation in which Iran is again the aggressor.