Relations with Iran Hit New Low over Incident; INTERNATIONAL BACKGROUND
Byline: By Bill Thomas
Iran's relations with the West have been prickly since its Islamic revolution in 1979, but have descended into outright hostility over recent years.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's refusal to cooperate with international inspectors over his country's nuclear programme has sparked a high-stakes diplomatic row, with the United Nations voting today on tightening sanctions imposed in December.
And Tehran has been accused by Britain and the US of aiding insurgents in neighbouring Iraq, both by failing to seal its borders and by actively arming and funding militia groups.
Yesterday's incident appears, on the face of it, to be a repeat of the capture of six Royal Marines and two Royal Navy sailors on the Shatt al-Arab waterway in 2004. They were released after only a few days.
But that incident occurred under a previous administration more amenable to co-operation than President Ahmadinejad, whose election in August 2005 led to a dramatic deterioration in relations between Tehran and the West.
The early years of Labour's time in office saw a thaw between Iran and the UK, marked by a visit to Tehran by then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001.
But the improvement in bilateral links was dealt a blow by Iranian opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and definitively ended by the election of Mr Ahmadinejad.
He revived the defiantly anti-Western rhetoric of the Islamic revolution, embarked on a course of confrontation on the nuclear issue and sparked international condemnation with calls for Israel to be "wiped off the map".
Meanwhile, Iran was blamed for stoking the postwar violence in Iraq in a bid to extend its influence into areas occupied by communities sharing its adherence to the Shia tradition of Islam.
Tehran supported Shia groups like the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri) and its armed wing the Badr Brigade while they were fighting the regime of Saddam Hussein, and is believed to have continued to fund them following his downfall, as well as offering backing to the Mahdi Army militia of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. …