Bloomberg: The U.K. government said it was “utterly confident” that 15 members of its military were in Iraqi waters when they were seized by Iranian forces. By Nick Allen and Gonzalo Vina
March 26 (Bloomberg) — The U.K. government said it was “utterly confident” that 15 members of its military were in Iraqi waters when they were seized by Iranian forces.
The eight Royal Navy sailors and seven Royal Marines were taken at gunpoint in the Persian Gulf on March 23. They had just conducted a routine inspection of a merchant ship when their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iran’s territorial waters, according to the U.K. Iran said the Britons, 14 men and one woman, were in Iranian waters.
“There is no doubt in our mind at all that they were in Iraqi waters,” Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesman Tom Kelly told reporters in London today. “We are utterly confident that the personnel detained were in the right waters and we call for their immediate release.”
The Britons were interrogated today and will have to respond to allegations that they violated Iranian territory, Agence France-Presse said, citing comments on state television by Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Mostafavi. The incident is the latest to raise tensions between Western nations and Iran, which is under pressure over its refusal to suspend its nuclear program. The Islamic Republic has also been accused by Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush of meddling in Iraq.
The interrogation of the sailors and Marines would clarify whether they entered Iran deliberately or by mistake, Mostafavi was cited as saying by AFP.
‘Fit and Well’
Geoffrey Adams, the British ambassador in Tehran, met today with senior officials at Iran’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. He was assured that the British military personnel were “fit and well” and in Iran, according to the U.K. Foreign Office.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the seized Britons were acting with the approval of his country’s government and were in Iraqi waters. Zebari telephoned his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, late yesterday to ask for their release, the Iraqi ministry said in a statement on its Web site.
Some analysts and traders have expressed concern that sanctions or a military campaign against Iran may disrupt oil supplies from the Middle East, the source of about a third of the world’s oil.
Crude oil for May delivery climbed as much as 61 cents, or 1 percent, to $62.89 a barrel in after-hours electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest since Dec. 26. It was at $62.77 at 11:10 a.m. in London.
In June 2004, Iran held eight British servicemen for three days after capturing them and their three vessels in the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which runs along the border between Iran and Iraq. Iran said the Britons were in Iranian waters and paraded them blindfolded on television, forcing them to make statements apologizing for their “mistake.”