Iran General NewsIran rolls back on pledge to free sailor

Iran rolls back on pledge to free sailor

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AP: Iran on Thursday rolled back on a pledge to release a female British sailor, and a top official said the 15 captives may be put on trial. Associated Press

By NASSER KARIMI

Associated Press Writer

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran on Thursday rolled back on a pledge to release a female British sailor, and a top official said the 15 captives may be put on trial.

Iran’s foreign minister had said Tehran would soon free Faye Turney, the only woman among the sailors and marines seized last week while searching a merchant vessel in what Iran says were its territorial waters near Iraq.

But Gen. Ali Reza Afshar, Iran’s military chief, said that because of the “wrong behavior” by the British government, “the release of a female British soldier has been suspended,” the semiofficial Iranian news agency Mehr reported.

Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani also told state television that British leaders “have miscalculated this issue” and if they follow through with threats, the case “may face a legal path” – presumably putting the Britons on trial.

Britain has circulated a draft press statement to the Security Council, asking it to “deplore” Tehran’s action and demand the immediate release of the captives.

But Security Council diplomats said the statement is likely to face problems from Russia and others because it says the Britons were “operating in Iraqi waters” – a point that Iran contests.

Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government also said it was freezing most contacts with Iran. But Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted a government official as playing down the consequences.

“Tehran-London relations were already cold,” the unidentified official said. Iran’s Foreign Ministry is to deliver a letter to the U.N. to protest the violation of its territorial waters, IRNA said.

Britain enlisted international help to free the captives.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed their fate with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on the sidelines of an Arab summit in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, that both were attending.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana urged Iran to free the captives, saying the standoff is blocking efforts to improve relations. In Paris, the Foreign Ministry summoned the Iranian ambassador to express concern and urge their release.

The crisis had appeared to be easing Wednesday, with Mottaki saying that if the alleged entry into Iranian waters proved to have been a mistake “this can be solved,” and that Britain’s “admitting the mistake will facilitate a solution to the problem.” Mottaki also said Iran had GPS devices from the seized British boats that showed they were in Iranian territory.

But tensions soared anew after Iranian television later showed the detainees, with Turney saying her group had “trespassed” in Iranian waters.

The video also displayed what appeared to be a handwritten letter from Turney, 26, to her family. “I have written a letter to the Iranian people to apologize for us entering their waters,” it said. The letter also asks Turney’s parents in Britain to look after her 3-year-old daughter, Molly, and her husband, Adam.

The video showed Turney in a head scarf and her uniform eating with other sailors and marines. Later, wearing a white tunic and black head scarf, she sat in a room before floral curtains and smoked a cigarette.

Turney was the only detainee shown speaking, saying she had been in the navy for nine years.

“Obviously we trespassed into their waters,” Turney said at one point. “They were very friendly and very hospitable, very thoughtful, nice people. They explained to us why we’ve been arrested. There was no harm, no aggression.”

Britain angrily denounced the video as unacceptable and froze most dealings with Iran.

“Nobody should be put in that position. It is an impossible position to be put in,” said Blair’s spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with government policy. “It is wrong. It is wrong in terms of the usual conventions that cover this. It is wrong in terms of basic humanity.”

The third Geneva Convention bans subjecting prisoners of war to intimidation, insults or “public curiosity.” Because there is no armed conflict between Iran and Britain, the captives would not technically be classified as prisoners of war.

Britain’s ambassador to Tehran lodged an official complaint, the Foreign Office said.

In Iraq, the Iranian consul in Basra charged that British soldiers on Thursday had surrounded his office and fired shots into the air. The Ministry of Defense in London said the shooting was an exchange of gunfire after British troops on a foot patrol near the Iranian consulate were ambushed.

But Iranian Consul-General Mohammed Ridha Nasir Baghban said British forces had engaged in a “provocative act” that “could worsen the situation of the British sailors.”

“British forces should rely on wisdom and not react because of the British forces’ detention. This reflects negatively on bilateral relations,” Baghban told AP.

In London, Vice Adm. Charles Style said the British boats were seized at 29 degrees 50.36 minutes north latitude and 48 degrees 43.08 minutes east longitude. He said that position had been confirmed by an Indian-flagged merchant ship boarded by the sailors and marines.

But the position, outside the Shatt el-Arab waterway in the Gulf, is an area where no legal boundary exists, leaving it unclear whose territory it lies in, said Kaiyan Kaikobad, author of “The Shatt al-Arab Boundary Question.”

“What we do have is a de facto state practiced boundary – a line both countries have been observing on the spot,” he said. “The problem is that though the British have drawn a line where they claim the de facto line is, we haven’t seen an Iranian version.”

Associated Press writers Tariq Panja in London, Salah Nasrawi in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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