There was probably little doubt in most minds that after the capture of 15 Royal Navy sailors and marines on the gulf frontier of the Shatt al-Arab waterway that the US Bush administration would be chaffing at the bit to make things worse. Britain's worst nightmare would have been a typically miscalculated Bush/Cheney military response to something which still was not fully understood.
Sure enough, the Bush/Cheney offer to Britain at the outset of the capture of those naval personnel was to ratchet up the military activity. While I don't give Tony Blair much credit for possessing the power of reason, his senior civil service, senior cabinet members and the British diplomatic corps completely understood what would happen if the US was permitted to become a part of the incident. (All emphasis mine)
The US offered to take military action on behalf of the 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran, including buzzing Iranian Revolutionary Guard positions with warplanes, the Guardian has learned.Now, there is nothing in the Guardian article to suggest that there weren't offers of diplomatic assistance but such offers certainly aren't mentioned, and given the way the Bush administration has been dealing with Iran it would be safe to accept that from a diplomatic standpoint, the US had little or nothing to offer.
In the first few days after the captives were seized and British diplomats were getting no news from Tehran on their whereabouts, Pentagon officials asked their British counterparts: what do you want us to do? They offered a series of military options, a list which remains top secret given the mounting risk of war between the US and Iran. But one of the options was for US combat aircraft to mount aggressive patrols over Iranian Revolutionary Guard bases in Iran, to underline the seriousness of the situation.
Britain had their own way of handling it and there was a factor which had to be resolved: Was this actually a stunt originating with the Tehran, or was it a local decision which expanded into an international incident? Whatever it was, the current US Bush methodology of dealing with such issues had to be contained or the whole thing would spiral out of control.
The British declined the offer and said the US could calm the situation by staying out of it. London also asked the US to tone down military exercises that were already under way in the Gulf. Three days before the capture of the 15 Britons , a second carrier group arrived having been ordered there by president George Bush in January. The aim was to add to pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme and alleged operations inside Iraq against coalition forces.I'm sure the British used very diplomatic language when addressing the US but if there is any doubt about what they meant, it was clear that "Keep out of it. Keep your mouths shut. And take your carrier strike groups to the other end of the Gulf," was the message.
At the request of the British, the two US carrier groups, totalling 40 ships plus aircraft, modified their exercises to make them less confrontational.
The British government also asked the US administration from Mr Bush down to be cautious in its use of rhetoric, which was relatively restrained throughout.
Bush finally spoke on March 31st, he was a long way down the list of leaders of various nations which had already publicly and privately communicated the same message to Iran. Interestingly, there was no reaction from anybody about Bush's statement. The truth is, anything he said would be irrelevant. Iran had already heard from a long list of countries, including Syria and the message was clear: Release the captives.
The British view one of the few benefits of this event as the identification of channels of communication with Iran which previously had not existed. While it is a most undesirable way to develop diplomatic lines of communications, the establishment of them places Britain on a different diplomatic plane. And it underscores the fact that the US administration of George W Bush and Richard Cheney, with no ability to communicate with Iran except through back-channels, has taken the United States in a direction which should enrage its population. The United States has been reduced to global diplomatic irrelevance.