Modern Australian

As pressure on Iran mounts, there is little room for quiet diplomacy to free detained Australians

  • Written by Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

Australia’s attempts to secure the release of an Australian national and two with joint UK-Australian citizenship from an Iranian prison have become vastly more complicated following the brazen attacks on Saudi oil facilities over the weekend.

Room for quiet diplomacy has been narrowed while the world comes to terms with a strike at the very heart of global energy security.

At this stage, it is not clear to what extent facilities at Saudi Arabia’s main refinery have been crippled, but initial reports indicate it could be weeks and possibly months before it is brought back into full production.

Read more: As Australia looks to join a coalition in Iran, the risks are many

Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq refinery processes about half the kingdom’s oil production. According to initial reports, the attack reduced throughput by 5 million barrels a day, or nearly 5% of global production.

‘Hostage diplomacy’

Australia’s former foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has offered to intervene with the Iranian authorities in an attempt to secure the release of the Australian nationals being held in Tehran.

These include Mark Firkin and his UK-Australian girlfriend, Jolie King. The two were arrested earlier this year for the unauthorised flying of a drone near a military facility on the outskirts of Tehran. They have not been charged.

More serious at this stage, however, is the case of Melbourne University Middle East specialist and joint UK-Australia citizen Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was detained in October 2018. She has been sentenced to 10 years in jail.

As pressure on Iran mounts, there is little room for quiet diplomacy to free detained Australians University of Melbourne Middle East specialist Kylie Moore-Gilbert. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Handout/EPA

Iran has not publicly announced details of charges against her.

The cases of Moore-Gilbert, Firkin and King have, inevitably and unhelpfully, become enmeshed in wider geopolitical tensions in which Iran is fighting back against a US sanctions regime that seeks to cripple its economy.

Iran is being accused of “hostage diplomacy” by resorting to the incarceration of foreign nationals at a time when sanctions are rendering enormous damage to its oil-exporting economy.

This is the background to the diplomatic challenges facing the Australian government in its efforts to free its citizens. These are, by any standards, unpromising circumstances.

While Australian officials insist Canberra’s decision to commit to a US-led mission to protect ships travelling through the Strait of Hormuz is unconnected to the detention of its citizens, Tehran has a history of using individuals ruthlessly as bargaining chips in a wider geopolitical game.

Read more: Infographic: what is the conflict between the US and Iran about and how is Australia now involved?

Hostage taking, or “hostage diplomacy”, has a lengthy tail in the history of the Islamic Republic going back to the November 4, 1979, seizure of the American embassy in Tehran and a siege that ensued for 444 days. Fifty-two Americans were held hostage for more than a year.

More recently, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was held in Iran for 544 days before being released with three other Iranian-Americans as part of a prisoner swap in 2016, just before economic sanctions on Iran were lifted under the terms of the nuclear deal.

In recent weeks, Iran has also detained a UK-flagged oil carrier in the Persian Gulf. The Stena Impero remains in Iranian custody, but members of its crew have been let go.

US blaming Iran for Saudi attack

All this was contributing to heightened tensions in the gulf before this weekend’s attacks at the very heart of Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wasted little time in blaming Iran for the attacks. Although Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the strikes using drones, Washington is investigating whether cruise missiles were the weapon of choice, fired from either Iraq or Iran itself. A Trump administration official told Reuters,

There’s no doubt that Iran is responsible for this. No matter how you slice it, there’s no escaping it. There’s no other candidate.

Tehran has denied Washington’s accusations.

Saudi Arabia and its Yemeni government allies have been engaged in a vicious conflict with Houthi rebels since 2015. Thousands have been killed, and many more displaced, in what is regarded as the most serious humanitarian crisis in the world today.

Read more: Yemen: a calamity at the end of the Arabian peninsula

Iran is supporting the Houthis and is widely accused of fuelling the Yemen conflict to weaken Saudi Arabia.

In other words, the gulf and its environs are primed for worsening conflict unless the US and Iran can reach an accommodation that would enable an easing of sanctions.

President Donald Trump has been angling for a face-to-face meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly to address ways in which tensions could be eased.

Attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities – and, thus, the global economy – hardly provides a favourable environment for discussions that might, or might not, take place.

Iran has set as a precondition for talks a relaxation of sanctions.

As pressure on Iran mounts, there is little room for quiet diplomacy to free detained Australians Satellite image of smoke from fires at two major oil installations in Saudi Arabia after the attack over the weekend. NASA Worldview Handout/EPA

Australia’s limited leverage

Meanwhile, the Australian government finds itself in a situation where it has limited leverage. Trade between Australia and Iran is negligible and holds little promise as long as sanctions remain in place. Canberra’s decision to join a US-led mission in the Middle East means that it is now identified with Washington’s “maximum pressure” approach.

Australia is one of three countries to have signed up to the US initiative. The others are Britain and Bahrain.

In all of this there is another complicating factor, and one that has been little-reported. Tehran was displeased when Australia arrested an Iranian citizen at the request of the US for breaching sanctions.

Iran made repeated representations to secure the release of Negar Ghodskani after her arrest in 2017. She has pleaded guilty to conspiring to facilitate the illegal export of technology from the US and faces a hefty fine and jail time.

This is a tangled web, and hardly likely to become less so.

Authors: Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

Read more http://theconversation.com/as-pressure-on-iran-mounts-there-is-little-room-for-quiet-diplomacy-to-free-detained-australians-123599

NEWS

how DJs and creatives are earning a buck online via Twitch, Patreon, OnlyFans and more

Aliane Schwartzhaupt/Unsplash, CC BYThe constraints of coronavirus isolation have closed down most recreational activities, but some creative industries are responding in innovative ways. I have been researching “digital first personalities”...

Australia, you have unfinished business. It's time to let our 'fire people' care for this land

Rangers from Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa, conducting cool season burning on Martu Country.Tony Jupp,The Nature ConservancySince last summer’s bushfire crisis, there’s been a quantum shift in public awareness of Aboriginal fire management...

Morrison government invites unions to dance, but employer groups call the tune

Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week proposed a new deal in industrial relations, bringing together the government, employers and unions to agree on reforms to create jobs and lift the...

What COVID-19 means for the people making your clothes

ShutterstockWorkers everywhere are feeling the impact of COVID-19 and the restrictions necessitated by COVID-19. In Australia, retail and hospitality workers have been particularly hard hit. In other countries, it’s manufacturing...

No big packed lectures allowed if we're to safely bring uni students back to campus

Flickr/Michael Coghlan, CC BY-SAA return to face to face teaching at universities and technical colleges “where possible” is one of the goals of the Morrison government’s three step framework for...

Morrison wants unions and business to 'put down the weapons' on IR. But real reform will not be easy.

Lukas Coch/AAPIn a bid to repair the economy, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced an industrial relations overhaul. Business groups and unions will be brought together to try to change...

Quality of life in high-density apartments varies. Here are 6 ways to improve it

Gethin Davison, Author providedWe’re building a lot of apartments in Australia. High-density precincts are being developed across our major cities. But these buildings and neighbourhoods are often not designed and...

New Zealand sits on top of the remains of a giant ancient volcanic plume

EwingAuthor providedBack in the 1970s, scientists came up with a revolutionary idea about how Earth’s deep interior works. They proposed it is slowly churning like a lava lamp, with buoyant...

Rio Tinto just blasted away an ancient Aboriginal site. Here’s why that was allowed

Juukan 1 and 2 in June, 2013Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal CorporationIn the expansion of its iron ore mine in Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto blasted the Juukan Gorge 1...

why is type 2 diabetes linked to increased risk of cancer and dementia?

ShutterstockIn Australia, more than 1.1 million people currently have type 2 diabetes.A host of potential complications associated with the disease mean a 45-year-old diagnosed with type 2 diabetes will live...

Are thermal cameras a magic bullet for COVID-19 fever detection? There's not enough evidence to know

During the frenzy of the past few months to secure resources for the fight against COVID-19, the demand for technologies that promise to detect symptomatic individuals has been sky-high. However...

Warwick Thornton’s The Beach is a delicate conversation with Country

SBS/NITVReview: The Beach, created and directed by Warwick ThorntonWatching Warwick Thornton’s The Beach is a journey into place and self. It made me want to breathe deeper and smell the...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

How Can You Become a LifesaverWhat You Should Know About Front End Smash RepairsAdvantages of Living in a Retirement VillageIf you buy virtual currency, use a safe and secure exchangeUrban Development: Trends Shaping The Future of CitiesThree cities worth visiting in PolandUpgrade your career in beauty therapy with these short beauty courses6 Ways To Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)Top Tips for the Best Camping TripHealthy Cooking at Home - Tips & TricksMental Health and Covid-19: How Effective are Health- Supplements?Know the Best Times to Eat Protein BarsEnhancing Self Sense of HumorPlanning a wedding overseas? Keep your spending in check with these simple tipsNutri-Grain is launching 'Gold Honey Crunch', a limited-edition flavour