Iran General NewsEU urges Iran to free 15 U.K. sailors, marines...

EU urges Iran to free 15 U.K. sailors, marines ‘without delay’


Bloomberg: The European Union called for the release of 15 British sailors and Marines seized by Iran yesterday in Iraqi waters, according to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. By Claudia Rach and Steve Scherer

March 24 (Bloomberg) — The European Union called for the release of 15 British sailors and Marines seized by Iran yesterday in Iraqi waters, according to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

“In the name of the EU, we want to make clear that we expect Iran to release them without delay,” Steinmeier said today before an EU summit meeting in Berlin. Germany currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

Tensions have been rising between Western nations and Iran over its nuclear program, and the Islamic Republic has also been accused by the administrations of U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush of meddling in Iraq.

After the Britons were seized, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called off a planned visit to the United Nations in New York. The UN Security Council is poised to vote on a draft resolution that would freeze the assets of a state-owned Iranian bank and bar some exports from the country in an effort to persuade Iran to suspend its nuclear program.

“I’m confident that we will succeed over the weekend and we will have a resolution in a few days,” Steinmeier said today. “It was necessary to convince three non-permanent members (of the Security Council) to agree on the text. Those talks are still going on.” A vote had been expected as soon as today.

Investigation, Questioning

Iran’s foreign ministry said the British sailors and Marines were taken “for investigation and questioning” because they illegally entered Iranian territorial waters “a number of times,” Agence France-Presse reported yesterday, citing Iranian State television.

EU leaders are meeting in Berlin today and tomorrow to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the first international agreement that gave birth to the union that now includes 27 nations. Greater unity on foreign policy matters is one of the issues that will be discussed at the two-day summit.

Britain demanded the immediate return of the military personnel and equipment in a meeting yesterday between Peter Ricketts, the permanent under-secretary at the U.K. Foreign Office, and Rasoul Movahedian, the Iranian ambassador in London, the Foreign Office said.

It’s not the first time U.K. naval forces have been involved in a dispute with Iran in the region. 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.

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