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Standoff of Iranian craft, US ships sheds light on bilateral ties
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17:51, January 09, 2008

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Five Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats attempted to "stand off" with three U.S. Navy ships on patrol Sunday, January 6 in the Strait of Hormuz, a very crucial point of the world. The US military refers to the standoff as a "provocative action," which has taken place at a sensitive moment on the eve of President George W. Bush' trip to the Middle East, and may once again set off strained relations between the two countries.

The incident, which occurred at 0400 GMT on Sunday, or January 6, lasted about 20 minutes. Unidentified US officials have been reported to say that the Iranian vessels came within 200 meters of the U.S. ships in international waters in the strait on Sunday.

"It is the most serious provocation of this sort we've seen yet," a Pentagon official said on Monday or January 7, as there has been so far no unblocked telecommunication contact between the United States and Iran and their armed forces.

Meanwhile, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on the same day: "The United States will confront Iranian behavior whether it seeks to do harm (in the strait of Hormuz), either to us or to out friends."

The Iranian side, nevertheless, responded with a low profile. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini has been said to play down the incident, noting it was "something normal".

An "informed source" from the naval force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards was quoted by the Iranian state television as saying that "there were no standoffs. And on Tuesday, or January 8, Senior Revolutionary Guard Commander Ali Reza Tangsiri acknowledged that Iran had the right to ask any ships to identify themselves upon entering or leaving the Persian gulf. Furthermore, he claimed that only "an ordinary identification was transmitted.

In another related development, the January 8-16 trip of the US president will be George W. Bush's first official visit to Israel and the West Bank, and will include visits to Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. This nine-day trip of Bush's is expected to be the focus of wide attention from all walks of life in the Middle East.

In an interview with media reporters before his departure, President Bush said his trip was aimed mainly "to nurture Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts in the face of deep skepticism while rallying Arab opposition to Iran."

His recent serial remarks targeting at Iran touched off vehement discontent and resentment from the Iranian side. "Bush's trip to the region is seeking to control some regional policies and to meddle in the Middle East countries' affairs," Foreign Ministrry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini openly lambasted the US policy of hostility toward Iran at a press conference, stressing that Iran would not be intimidated by U.S threats.

Analysts here have cited the year 2008 as a year for the US Presidential Campaign. To date, the US policy of hostility toward Iran has not changed however, and Bush's ongoing Middle East trip is precisely to weaken Iran's influence in the region.

On the other hand, this is also a year for the Iranian presidential race. In Iran, President Ahmadinejad has been brought under increased pressures from both at home and overseas, as he has been accused by 21 political parties of creating crises. Ahamadinejad will stand up for re-election in the spring of 2009 and so an endeavor to seek his re-election has become the focus of his work this year.

At the same time, in view of the U.S. policy of hostility toward Iran, the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei was quoted as telling students last Thursday or January 3 that "cutting ties with the United States is one of our basic policies. We have never said that they will be cut for ever." These remarks have been interpreted by Western media as a possibility Iran is pondering to restore its diplomatic ties with the U.S.

"Rome was not built in a single day," as a popular saying goes. Decades of hatred and grudges against each other cannot be dissolved between the U.S. and Iran in a short period of time. If imbued with ample and full sincerity and courage from both sides, however, the time will eventually come to "melt away the piles of ‘ice and snow'"so far accumulated to estrange them.

By People's Daily Online, and its author is Meng Xianglin, an ace PD resident reporter in Islamabad, Pakistan

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