STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, says the next 48 hours will be fairly critical in resolving the dispute over Iran's seizure of 15 sailors and marines. Tony Blair says if Iran wants to resolve the matter in a diplomatic way, the door is open. Blair's remarks follow similar conciliatory statements coming out of Tehran 12 days after the British crew was seized in the Persian Gulf.
NPR's senior news analyst Ted Koppel has been in this place before.
TED KOPPEL: As Yogi Berra so elegantly put it: It's deja vu all over again. Almost 28 years now since an ABC News editor called me at home on a Sunday with word that Iranian demonstrators were inside the walls of the U.S. embassy compound in Tehran, and didn't I think that I should trot over to the State Department and do a report.
Well, no, I didn't. I explained that all of this had happened a few months previously and that the U.S. ambassador on that occasion had come out, talked with the demonstrators, and everyone had gone home. I resisted, the editor insisted. And grudgingly, I went in to work.
I batted out a piece that memorably, if incorrectly, predicted that it would soon all be over. If by soon I meant 444 days, I was right on the money. So, here we are again, a couple of hundred Iranian students hurling bricks, firecrackers and invective at the British embassy this time. They're calling for the expulsion of the British ambassador and the closing of the embassy, which they describe as a den of spies. They haven't even changed the script in 28 years. But then, apparently neither have we.
The two U.S. carrier groups that are now on station in the Persian Gulf launched into a chest-thumping military exercise off the coast of Iran. That, and the overall unpredictability of who would do what next, immediately drove up the price of oil.
The way to exert real pressure on the Iranian government is to drive the price of oil down. But that's not nearly as satisfying as denouncing the seizure of those 15 British sailors and marines and then going on to demonstrate how few options we really have.
If history is any guide, Iran may wait until Tony Blair's tenure as prime minister comes to an end in a few months. That's what they did to Jimmy Carter, waiting to hand over the U.S. hostages until the very moment that Ronald Reagan was inaugurated.
This time Iran may simply wait to hand over the 15 Brits as a thumb in the eye to Blair and a token of good will to the new British prime minister. Either that or the British will dispatch an envoy to eat humble pie, apologize for the intrusion, and get their people home again. It's humiliating and outrageous, but we're in no position to have another war in the Persian Gulf.
Western bluster is what helped put Iranian President Ahmadinejad in power in the first place. U.N. sanctions and military maneuvers are just what it will take to keep him there.
INSKEEP: Commentary from NPR's senior news analyst Ted Koppel.