With the safe departure of 15 captured British sailors and marines from Iran, a trial of strength without bloodshed has eventually come to an end. Does it result from pressures or a behind-the-scene deal, but one reason is obvious nevertheless, that is, negotiation is, after all, better than a bid of resorting to force at all. On this very issue, Xu Buqing, a PD desk editor, has conversed with Wang Rujun and Meng Xianglin, respective PD reporters in UK and Pakistan.
Desk Editor: On Wednesday afternoon, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Iran 15 captured British sailors and marines would soon be freed. Could you brief us on latest developments with these navy personnel?
Wang Rujun (PD resident reporter in UK): The 15 released sailors and marines arrived at Heathrow Airport safely at noon Thursday (local time) and, 20 minutes later, they walked out of the plane cabin. They then lined up by the planeside and posed for photos with the help of photographers. Afterwards, they were escorted to a military base by helicopter, where they would have physical check-up and psychological counseling before their union with their families and close relatives.
After the return of the 15 navy servicement, Prime Minister Tony Blair could not but expressed his joy for bringing the British sailors back "safe and sound." Noting that Britain did not make "any deal", he reiterated his "double-track tactics", that is, to conduct dialogue while imposing more pressures. It would be a naive idea if people really deemed these sailors would also be freed with the absence of these factors, he acknowledged. Meanwhile, he added, he felt grieved for the loss of four British servicemen in Iraq and lambasted the raiding as a "terrorist act". One again, Prime Minister Blair denounced Iran for backing or assisting "Iraqi terrorists in such fields as economy and weaponry equipment.
Desk Editor: Under an impact of the tidings, futures oil price on the New York futures market on Wednesday dropped 26 US cents per barrel, ending 64.38 dollars per barrel of oil delivery for May. Meanwhile French Foreign Minister Philippee Douste-Blazy on Wednesday also voiced his welcome to the 15 released British navy personnel; and the US National Security Council spokesman, Gorden Johndroe, said on the same day that President Bush welcomed the immediate release of 15 British sailors and marines. Reviewing a two-week diplomatic see-saw battle over the "sailors issue" between Britain and Iran, why the issue was resolved so rapidly?
Meng Xianglin (PD resident reporter in Pakistan): President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stressed that Iran had made the above move not because it had struck a deal with Britain but that his country did it "as a gift to the British people."
Despite denials from UK and US officials, some analysts still hold there are possibilities for a back-the-scene deal, because, as they assume, the press briefing by President Ahmadinejad, which had originally been scheduled for Tuesday (April 3), was put off one day, as it was likely that both sides failed to reach an accord on the conditions for their release on April 3. In fact, two days prior to Iran's decision made to free the UK sailors, ranking Iranian and British officials suspended an 11-day exchange of censures and began replacing them with "goodwill signals"
Furthermore, relevant US authorities on Wednesday permitted Iranian officials to meet with five Iranians kidnapped by the US troops in Iraq on January 2007; and Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary of the Iranian Embassy in Tehran, who had been kidnapped in Iraqi capital of Baghdad in Feb. 2007 was set free on Wednesday, but this is also by no means a coincidence. And all parties involved the issue still denied any backstage deal.
Wang Rujun: This derives from, first of all, the outcome of direct talks or negotiations between Britain and Iran. From the occurrence of the incident on March 23, both sides had been locked in their quiet, backstage negotiations and, five days later, or on March 28, the UK side raised it tone for "enhanced pressures" in negotiations and the Iranian side responded with a "tit-for-tat" method by releasing video tapes about the sailor captives and even said it would put them on trial. When the British side voiced their readiness negotiate with a low-profile, the Iranian side waved the "Olive Branch" for an in-depth contact with Britain.
Ahmadinejad won the title of "first winner" in the "kidnapping crisis." British Broadcasting Station citied him as a "master player", who passed himself off as a pragmatist at the critical juncture. When Britain resorted to the double tactics, he was able to dissolve crises. British media reports say that it was up to him to announce the issue's unexpected outcome, and this led him to direct shows on the global stage all at once. Even John R. Bolton, the former US permanent representative to the United Nations, famed for his hawkish posture, acknowledged that Ahmadinejad was a real winner in the diplomatic see-saw battle with UK.
Desk Editor: Iran, currently amid a "nuclear enrichment crisis issue", has just entered a new round of sanctions against it, and "new achievements" it expects to release on April 9 will possibly draw stern denunciations from the West. So, does Iran have other due considerations with its resolution of the "sailor issue" in such a prompt way?
Meng Xianglin: The "sailors issue" represents a trial of strength without a bloodshed, analysts here said. This crisis has, to some extent, repaired or restored its smeared international image from global sanctions. As the date to announce its "new achievements" in the nuclear sphere is drawing near, Iran feels it unnecessary to bog itself down on the "sailors issue" with Britain. In the meantime, the British government, likewise, considers that neither side would benefit from the deadlock as it also met with powerful pressures at home. The settlement of the issue has left the Western nations with a room for further ponderation in dealing with or settling the related crises in the days ahead.
Wang Rujun: No matter what it is, either a coincidence or a backstage deal, it is good to resolve the crisis after all. From the whole process of the incident, UK's diplomatic maneuvering took effect finally, and Tony Blair called on Britain indeed to "stand firm against Tehran". So the most ideal way to settle crises is none other than the means of diplomatic negotiation.
The best lesson drawn from the peaceful settlement of the crisis, notes the British "Financial Times" in a commentary Thursday, is a direct negotiation between officials of both sides, which has yield unanticipated results. The newspaper also reminds the U.S. and its allies of using the same method to cope with the Iranian nuclear program and other related issues. Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell said candidly and honestly: "There will be many lessons to be learned from this episode."
By People's Daily Online