Iran General NewsForeign Office reads riot act to Tehran's man in...

Foreign Office reads riot act to Tehran’s man in London

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The Independent: Iran and Britain risk a dangerous escalation of tensions over the sailors’ kidnapping, which comes as the international drive to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions is reaching a climax. The Independent

By Anne Penketh, Diplomatic Editor

Iran and Britain risk a dangerous escalation of tensions over the sailors’ kidnapping, which comes as the international drive to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions is reaching a climax.

The UN Security Council is preparing to authorise further sanctions against Tehran in a vote expected today, to censure Tehran for failing to halt sensitive activities that could lead to production of a nuclear bomb.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We do not see any connection between this incident and the current nuclear dispute. We are seeking to secure the release of our personnel bilaterally.”

Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, said the Iranian envoy to the UK, Rasul Movahedian-Attar, “was left in no doubt that we want them back,” when he met one of her senior aides for 20 minutes in what was described as a “brisk and cordial” session.

Iranian state television waited until last night to report the abduction, which occurred during the new-year break when most government offices are closed. It accused the British of illegally entering Iranian waters. The British chargé d’affaires was summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, which demanded a full explanation. Britain says the sailors were operating in Iraqi waters.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry appears to have been taken by surprise by the incident, although other parts of the government may have been aware of the kidnapping, which could have been an opportunistic act by a group of Revolutionary Guards. Tensions are running high between the West and Iran over accusations that the Iranians are responsible for attacks on coalition troops in Iraq, and over Iran’s nuclear defiance of the UN.

British officials could not rule out the possibility that the kidnapping may have been the result of a direct order from the Iranian leadership. Iran announced on Thursday that the navy had launched war games in the Persian Gulf codenamed “Power”, and a Revolutionary Guards general was quoted as saying: “If the United States starts a war against Iran, it won’t be the US that finishes it.”

Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, raised the temperature further this week by hinting that the Iranians might break out of the international nuclear inspection regime if the Security Council insisted that it end uranium enrichment.

Last night, negotiations were under way at the UN in the hope that Qatar, the Arab representative, and Muslim Indonesia would join the consensus on the 15-member council to send a united message to Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad originally said that he intended to attend the meeting, but last night Mohammed Ali Hosseini, a foreign ministry spokesman, said Mr Ahmadinejad’s trip was scrapped because of “America’s obstruction in issuing visas” to the Iranian delegation that was to travel to New York.

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