Was Iran's Seizure of Britons Response to U.N.? Iran's capture of 15 British sailors and marines is most likely a reaction to sanctions passed against Iran by the U.N. Security Council over the weekend, says Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He believes Iran is feeling anxious about its economic isolation.

Was Iran's Seizure of Britons Response to U.N.?

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For more on Iran's capture of those British sailors and marines, we're joined by Karim Sadjadpour. He's an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace here in Washington. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. KARIM SADJADPOUR (Iran Expert, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): Pleasure, Melissa.

BLOCK: The Iranians say this was an incursion into their waters. But when you look at the timing of all of this, there are any number of other issues that could be factored into their actions. You were based in Tehran for some time. What do you think is going on here?

Mr. SADJADPOUR: Well, I think that's a good way to put it. There's a number of factors. I don't think there's one specific factor that caused this to happen. But I would argue that Iran is behaving right now out of much more of a position of desperation rather than provocation. Meaning they really - there's a sense of siege right now in Tehran. You have U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. You have Iranian officials being detained in Iraq.

You have the measures, sanctions at the UN Security Council, financial coercion. And Iran is concerned right now that on one hand it doesn't want confrontation, certainly doesn't want military confrontation with the U.S. and is concerned about going into political/economic isolation. On the other hand, they're concerned that if they simply do nothing in the face of this increased pressure, it's going to validate the hard-line approach from Washington and it's going to actually invite further pressure.

So this is why you see this certain schizophrenia coming out of Tehran, where on one day they would say we want to see a diplomatic resolution to this problem, and then on another day you have an action like this, with British sailors being detained, simply to show the world and especially the West that if you want to turn up the heat, we can reciprocate in kind.

BLOCK: There is an unnamed Iranian official today quoted in the Los Angeles Times. He said the Britons are being held by conservative elements of the Revolutionary Guard. And he said the foreign ministry is put aside in the matter. In other words, it's outside the normal channel of government. Could you remind us what the Revolutionary Guard is first, and if it could really be operating apart from the Iranian government?

Mr. SADJADPOUR: Sure. The Revolutionary Guards are the most elite fighting forces the Islamic Republic has. There are about 150,000 men, well trained, and they're increasingly playing a very strong role, both in the Iranian politics and the economics, in the Iranian foreign policy. And they're really a force to be reckoned with. Sometimes I describe them as the X-factor in Iranian politics because on all the key issues, whether it's Iran's role in Iraq, the nuclear issue, domestic political joust, the Revolutionary Guards have a very strong hand.

Now, I would agree that this was an action that was taken by the Revolutionary Guards. It certainly wasn't sanctioned by the Iranian Foreign Ministry and oftentimes it's unclear in Iran where these orders are coming from. Do the Revolutionary Guards carry this out on their own? Or was it given the blessing, was this behavior sanctioned by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei?

And we really can only speculate because even if the Revolutionary Guards embarked on this decision on their own, Ayatollah Khamenei is always going to come out after the fact and say, yeah, he approved of it and he blessed it because they don't want to show that there's confusion and incoherence in Tehran.

BLOCK: Well, how then could this crisis be brought to an end?

Mr. SADJADPOUR: I personally feel like this is going to be resolved quickly. You know, Iran is not al-Qaida. Iran has no intention of holding on to these British sailors for a long time or harming them in any way. Iran doesn't want to be a pariah state. But I think it's a combination of Iran wanting to project a powerful image, and at the same time wanting to save face. So I think that Iran is never going to release these soldiers and say it was our fault, it was our mistake, they were actually in Iraqi waters and we had no right to take them.

I think when and if these soldiers are released, and I think it will be soon, they will say that, well, maybe, it was - they mistakenly crossed into Iranian waters. But they will never admit that they're wrong. And I think both sides want to feel - the British understand that the Iranians want to save face, and Iranians don't want to harm these soldiers. But I think it's going to be a matter of time, in the next - I would say next one week or two weeks before these sailors are released.

BLOCK: Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Thanks very much.

Mr. SADJADPOUR: Thank you, Melissa.

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