Iran General NewsIran says Britain mishandling captives' issue

Iran says Britain mishandling captives’ issue

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Reuters: London has mishandled the aftermath of the detention of British naval personnel in the Gulf, Iran’s president said on Saturday after Britain expressed concern at Iranian “sabre-rattling”. By Edmund Blair

TEHRAN (Reuters) – London has mishandled the aftermath of the detention of British naval personnel in the Gulf, Iran’s president said on Saturday after Britain expressed concern at Iranian “sabre-rattling”.

Iran’s ambassador to Moscow said the 15 Britons captured eight days ago could face punishment if found guilty of illegally entering the Islamic Republic’s territorial waters. Britain insists the sailors were seized in Iraqi waters.

Suggesting the diplomatic standoff was not near a solution, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad underlined Iranian displeasure that Britain had turned to the Security Council and the European Union for support over the detentions.

“After the arrest of these people, the British government, instead of apologizing and expressing regret, over the action taken, started to claim that we are in their debt and shouted in different international councils,” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by state radio.

“But this is not the legal and logical way for this issue,” he said in a speech to a rally in Khuzestan, a province on the Iraqi border area where the Britons were seized.

After an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Bremen, northern Germany, Britain’s Margaret Beckett said she was worried by the Moscow ambassador’s words.

“Obviously, I am concerned. It is not the first person to have made sabre-rattling noises,” she told reporters.

“The message I want to send is I think everyone regrets that this position has arisen. What we want is a way out of it.”

Beckett said Britain had sent Iran a written reply to its diplomatic note on the detention of the sailors and had so far received no response.

Iran seized the sailors and marines in the northern Gulf on March 23 when they were on a U.N.-backed mission searching for smugglers. Tehran says they strayed into Iranian waters but Britain insists they were well in Iraqi territory.

The crisis, at a time of heightened Middle East tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, has helped push oil prices to six-month highs over concerns an escalation might cut oil exports from the region.

EXCHANGE OF NOTES

Iran’s Moscow ambassador, Gholamreza Ansari, said in an interview on Vesti-24 television on Friday, according to a Reuters translation from the original Farsi: “If there is no guilt they will be freed but the legal process is going on and has to be completed and if they are found guilty they will face the punishment.”

It was not clear on what authority he was speaking and IRNA said on Saturday Ansari had denied making the comments. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on March 25 Iran might charge the sailors with illegally entering its waters.

The opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran said at a news conference in London it had information the operation to capture the Britons was planned at the highest levels and pre-meditated.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry delivered a letter to Britain’s embassy in Tehran on Thursday, the first written communication between the two capitals since the crisis began.

The IRNA news agency said the Iranian message asked for “necessary guarantees that violations against Iranian waters would not be repeated”.

Beckett said: “We have made our response and we are now beginning to discuss. As you may know it’s a holiday period in Iran and it’s perhaps not too helpful.”

The Iranian government is largely shut down for the two-week Nowruz holiday which ends next Tuesday.

Iran displayed three of the detained Britons on television on Friday and released a letter from one saying she was being held because of “oppressive” British and U.S. behavior in Iraq.

British forces have been deployed in southern Iraq since joining the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003. Britain and the United States accuse Iran of allowing sophisticated weapons used to target their forces to be brought into Iraq.

(Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Tehran, and Adrian Croft in London)

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