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Iran blackmails, Britain negotiates

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Jubin Afshar
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Iran has once again seized British sailors just like it did three years ago. In that episode Iran managed to extract as much leverage on the British government as it could to steer itself through rough international waters designed to halt its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The seizure of the British servicemen this time around, was again accompanied with tough talk from Tehran and its military spokesman and accusations that the British “illegal entrance into Iranian waters” is “a suspicious and aggressive action.”

Iranian state media reported that the 15 Britons had been transferred to Tehran, where a senior Iranian military official was quoted as saying they had “confessed to illegal entry into Iran’s waters.”

What is Tehran up to?

Well if you’ve ever watched a Mafia movie, you would know exactly what the Iranian regime is up to. The mullahs see the EU and the British as weak states that succumb to blackmail. The regime has reason to believe so because it has tested them before and found its blackmail to work. So why not give it a try again now that Tehran is in trouble with the UN Security Council and the international community over its nuclear program and its terrorist intervention in Iraq and Lebanon?

The regime wants bargaining chips. Unfortunately, the British and EU reaction was feeble with the BBC reporting that Lord Triesman had “frank and civil” talks with Iranian ambassador Rasoul Movahedian. The talks were followed by further Iranian threats and the movement of the Britons to Tehran where it was guaranteed that they could be used to extract the highest price from the British government.

A concerned EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, warned the seizure of the seamen must not derail the two-track policy of talking to Tehran and pushing for sanctions at the same time. Obviously, Mr. Solana must have been more concerned with the talking track then with the sanctions track. “It would be a tremendous mistake if these two things were mixed,” Solana said. At the same time Solana told reporters he was seeking immediate talks with Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani about that country’s nuclear program.

"We want to get in touch with Dr. Larijani, this morning if we can, to try to find a route that would allow us to go into the negotiations," Solana told reporters on the sidelines of a European Union summit.

Well that’s something Tehran is sure to take stock of. Every time it takes hostages, ratchets up pressure, commits terror acts, and behaves like the rogue regime it is, the EU and British want to negotiate more. 

The scenario has been repeated many times before. One such blackmail was in 2000 when then Home Secretary Jack Straw proscribed the main Iranian opposition group, the PMOI (MEK) as a terrorist organization at Tehran’s behest. Now too the British government is keen to keep the PMOI (MEK), which is the Iranian regime’s nemesis, on the EU terror list despite an EU high court ruling that annulled such a designation in December 2006.

The move reveals the British government’s amoral policy of trading human rights and respect for rule of law with Tehran’s bargaining chips and commercial interests. Despite the British concessions, however, the Iranian regime like any criminal thug knows how to keep its victim in line by extracting even more leverage on its prey. 

Yesterday, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell linked the capture of the British servicemen with Iran's desire to pursue nuclear development. He said: "The United Kingdom will not be blackmailed. Iran has a choice: to act responsibly or face greater isolation."

The capture, however, is a clear attempt to extract more concessions from the British government to keep the PMOI on the EU terror list. The regime knows full well that the EU is trying to deal with the CFI ruling that removed the PMOI from the terrorist list and wants to send the British a message that either they continue to keep the PMOI on the list or they are in for some theater in Tehran with their servicemen being led blindfolded to prison in front of cameras.

Hopefully the British government will act responsibly by removing the PMOI from an erroneous terror list on which it was wrongfully put. The government should respect the CFI ruling and annul the PMOI’s proscription not only because it is the right and moral thing to do, but also because it is the only firm language that Tehran understands, and the only way to set Britain free from blackmail by the Iranian regime.

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Jubin Afshar, is Director of the Near East Project at Near East Policy Research in Washington, D.C. http://www.neareastpolicy.com/
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