On the twenty-third of March, Iranian naval vessels arrested fifteen British sailors on the Shatt al-Arab waterway between Iran and Iraq. They say that the sailors were found in Iranian waters, while Britain insists that they were picked up in Iraqi waters. Tony Blair has stated that "It is simply not true that they went into Iranian territorial waters" and noted "I hope the Iranian government understands how fundamental an issue this is for us". Meanwhile a senior Iranian official has alleged that the sailors confessed to illegally entering Iranian waters and it has been implied that they could face legal proceedings. He also claimed that they had recovered documents and other evidence (including GPS equipment) that proved that they knew they had strayed into Iranian waters.
The waterway has been a bone of contention since the Ottoman Empire and the Persian Empire signed a peace treaty in 1639, so it is perhaps unsurprising that both parties claim to be in the right. However, the timing of the move is interesting, coming as it did only one day before the UN Security Council met to discuss adding to the sanctions against Iran in response to their continued refusal to stop uranium enrichment.
If the seizure was intended to apply pressure at the meeting of the Security Council, it was not successful. The UN imposed fresh sanctions on Iran including a ban on Iranian arms exports and a freeze on the assets of a further twenty-eight individuals and organizations involved in their nuclear and missile programs. In response, Iran declared that it was partially suspending cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (the UN´s nuclear watchdog agency). President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also confirmed that the sanctions would not stop their nuclear enrichment program.
The vote was unanimous but only following an important compromise. Both Indonesia and the State of Qatar had proposed that an outright ban on weapons of mass destruction in the area should have been included. This had to be removed as it would have affected Israel, who are widely known to have nuclear weapons that they have never officially acknowledged.