AFP: Britain vowed Friday to increase Iran’s isolation over its detention of 15 British naval personnel, but stressed the need for patience in managing the crisis to avoid putting the detainees at risk. by Robin Millard
LONDON, March 30, 2007 (AFP) – Britain vowed Friday to increase Iran’s isolation over its detention of 15 British naval personnel, but stressed the need for patience in managing the crisis to avoid putting the detainees at risk.
Prime Minister Tony Blair voiced “disgust” at the latest video footage of detainees, adding that the “parading and manipulation” of British service personnel would fool no-one.
“We’ve got to proceed as we are, which is to make sure that Iran is increasingly isolated,” he said.
But he added: “We’ve just got to pursue this with the necessary firmness and determination but also patience … The most important thing is to make sure that our people are returned safe.”
Blair said that Iran had to realise they had nothing to gain from continuing to hold the marines and royal navy personnel they seized in the northern Gulf last Friday.
The reaction came after new footage aired in Iran showed one of the British seamen seized at gunpoint last week confessing to having trespassed into Iranian waters.
A Royal Navy serviceman identified as Nathan Thomas Summers, speaking on footage aired by Arabic-language Iranian television, said: “I would like to apologise for entering your waters without any permission.”
The Foreign Office denounced the new video as “outrageous propaganda” — a condemnation echoed by Blair.
“I really don’t know why the Iranian regime keep doing this. All it does is enhance people’s sense of disgust,” Blair said in Manchester, northwestern England.
Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, at a European Union meeting in Bremen, northern Germany, said she was “quite horrified” that the sailors were being used “for blatant propaganda.”
Britain insists its sailors were on United Nations business in Iraqi waters, while Iran says they trespassed into its waters — a dispute which has triggered eight days of bitterness between the countries.
Iran’s embassy in London also released a third handwritten letter purportedly from Faye Turney, 26, the only woman among the captured crew.
In odd-sounding English, the letter called for British troops to start withdrawing from Iraq “for our countries to move forward.”
Paul Beaver, a leading defence expert, said Iran was winning the “propaganda war” with Britain and said to expect further footage or letters.
“What they are doing is managing the propaganda war really well — and they are winning quite nicely,” he said.
“They have got everyone’s attention. They are clearly getting things out, using the girl because they know in the West that’s a soft spot.”
He said Turney’s second letter, written in “very strange English”, could have been translated from Farsi.
The fact that she called for British troops to be withdrawn from Iraq suggested it was written under duress, Beaver added.
“She knows that as a serving member of the armed forces she has no public opinion on that,” he explained.
Meanwhile the Iranian embassy in London released a formal letter sent from its foreign ministry to Britain’s embassy in Tehran.
Although it condemned the “illegal act” of entering its waters, the letter did not contain any demands for an apology, nor address Britain’s demands for consular access and details of the detainees’ whereabouts.
But Beckett voiced concern at the note.
“We have been looking for a way out from the very beginning. I wish I saw any sign that this is what Iran is trying to do,” she said.