Experts: Iran’s arrest of U.S. sailors broke international law – The U.S. riverine boats had the right to pass expeditiously through Iran’s territorial …
The U.S. riverine boats had the right to pass expeditiously through Iran’s territorial waters under the right of innocent passage without being boarded and arrested so long as they weren’t engaged in a military operation such as spying. Pentagon officials have said the riverine boat crews mistakenly entered Iran’s waters in the Persian Gulf due to a “navigation error” while en route to a refueling.
Their arrests nearly derailed the months of nuclear deal negotiations with Iran and U.S. officials quickly secured the sailors’ release. But only hours after their release, Iran’s hardliners released propaganda videos of the sailors in custody.
Iran did not have the legal standing to arrest the sailors at gunpoint and that demands a U.S. response, said one expert.
“This should be very concerning for the Navy community,” said James Kraska, a maritime law expert at the U.S. Naval War College. “This says that U.S. vessels don’t have innocent passage and that their sovereign immunity is not respected.”
As news of their arrests broke Jan. 12, the Obama administration assured the public that they would get Iran to release the sailors rapidly as part of thawing relations with the country over the nuclear deal. The sailors were freed after nearly 16 hours in captivity on Farsi Island and drove off in their riverine boats. The next day, Secretary of State John Kerry thanked Iran for its gracious treatment of the captured sailors, providing them with food and blankets. But within hours, Iran circulated images that showed the sailors surrendering at gunpoint, as well as a video where one of them apologized.
The U.S. has expressed discontent through diplomatic channels over Iran’s handling of the incident, the use of the sailors for propaganda and Iran’s flouting of international norms, a State Department official said.
“We have expressed our strong concern to Iran over the incident,” the official said, but declined to go into detail about those concerns, who relayed them or whether Iran could face further repercussions.
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