AP: Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday that Britain would not negotiate over British sailors and marines held hostage by Iran. In an interview with ITV News, Blair again called for the unconditional return of the 15 Royal Navy personnel who were seized by Iranian authorities last week. Associated Press
LONDON (AP) – Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday that Britain would not negotiate over British sailors and marines held hostage by Iran. In an interview with ITV News, Blair again called for the unconditional return of the 15 Royal Navy personnel who were seized by Iranian authorities last week.
“The important thing for us is to get them back safe and sound, but we can’t enter into some basis of bargaining,” Blair said. “What you have to do when you are engaged with people like the Iranian regime, you have to keep explaining to them, very patiently, what it is necessary to do and at the same time make them fully aware there are further measures that will be taken if they’re not prepared to be reasonable.
“What you can’t do is end up negotiating over hostages; end up saying there’s some quid pro quo or tit for tat; that’s not acceptable,” he said.
Britain’s Sky News meanwhile said Iran had released another letter by captured sailor Faye Turney, this time calling for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
The letter, which was read on the program, asked British lawmakers: “Isn’t it time to start withdrawing our forces from Iraq and let them determine their own future?” It was not possible to verify the authenticity of the letter.
Britain took its case to free its 15 sailors and marines held by Iran to the United Nations on Thursday, asking the Security Council to support a statement that would “deplore” Tehran’s action and demand their immediate release.
But Security Council diplomats said the statement circulated by Britain’s U.N. Mission is likely to face problems from Russia and others because it says the Britons were “operating in Iraqi waters” – a point that Iran contests.
The British move came as Iran rolled back on its promise to release Faye Turney, the sole female British sailor among the captives, and that a senior Iranian official suggested all of them may be put on trial.
Iran’s military chief, Gen. Ali Reza Afshar, said that because of the “wrong behavior” of the British government, “the releah draft was in the form of a press statement, which was to be discussed later Thursday at a closed-door meeting of the Security Council.
The text circulated to the 14 other council members said: “Members of the Security Council deplore the continuing detention by the government of Iran of 15 (United Kingdom) naval personnel.”
It added that the British crew was “operating in Iraqi waters as part of the Multinational Force-Iraq under a mandate from the Security Council under resolution 1723 and at the request of the government of Iraq” and it called for their “immediate release.”
A press statement is the weakest action the Security Council can take, but the statement must be approved by all council members. Diplomats said Britain was also weighing a stronger presidential statement, which unlike a press statement, is read at a formal Security Council meeting and becomes part of its official record.
The council diplomats said informal discussion of the proposed British statement indicated the issue of where the incident took place raised problems for some council members, including Russia. Some members also want to hear the Iranian side, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private.
The British government said that its sailors and marines were seized Friday after completing a search of a civilian ship near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which forms the border between Iran and Iraq, under a mandate from the Security Council and at the request of Iraq. Iran says the British vessels were inside its territorial waters.
Blair’s office dismissed a suggestion Wednesday by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki that Britain should resolve the crisis by admitting that its personnel had made a “mistake” and crossed into Iranian waters.
The British initially circulated a press statement, which is the weakest action that the U.N. Security Council could take, but diplomats said they might be considering a stronger presidential statement, which unlike a press statement, is read at a formal council meeting and becomes part of its official record.
Mottaki had said Wednesday that Turney, 26, would be released within 48 hours. Britain said it was halting all discussion with Iran except negotiations to free the detained sailors, and expressed outrage over Iran’s broadcast of images of the captured service members.
Top Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani said on Iranian state radio that: “British leaders have miscalculated this issue.”
If Britain follows through with its policies toward Iran, Larijani said “this case may face a legal path” – a clear reference to Iran’s prosecuting the sailors in court.
Blair’s official spokesman said Britain wanted to resolve the crisis quickly and without having a “confrontation over this.”
“We are not seeking to put Iran in a corner. We are simply saying, ‘Please release the personnel who should not have been seized in the first place,”‘ said the spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.
But in a briefing to reporters, the spokesman said British officials had been angered by Tehran’s decision to show the captives on Iranian television.
“Nobody should be put in that position. It is an impossible position to be put in,” he said. “It is wrong. It is wrong in terms of the usual conventions that cover this. It is wrong in terms of basic humanity.”
Britain’s ambassador to Tehran lodged an official complaint of Iran’s decision to show the video, the Foreign Office said.
“Today the British ambassador in Tehran met with Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials to protest about the TV pictures of Leading Seaman Faye Turney,” said a Foreign Office spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with department policy.
In the video that was broadcast Wednesday on Iran’s Arab-language satellite channel, Turney said her group had “trespassed” in Iranian waters. The segment showed her wearing a black head scarf, sitting in a room before floral curtains and smoking a cigarette.
“Obviously we trespassed into their waters,” Turney said. “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.”
In Thursday’s video from Iran that was shown on Sky News, another letter apparently written by Turney called for withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.
The letter asked British lawmakers: “Isn’t it time to start withdrawing our forces from Iraq and let them determine their own future?”
Britain’s Ministry of Defense released coordinates that it said proved the captured naval personnel were seized 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters.
Oil prices rose by more than $1 a barrel Wednesday to a six-month high as the U.S. Navy completed its largest show of force in the Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
President Bush has discussed the 15 Britons with Blair, White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said, and fully backs the British position.
Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, Tariq Panja in London and Salah Nasrawi in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, contributed to this report.