Iran General NewsIran's Ahmadinejad says 15 Britons are being freed

Iran’s Ahmadinejad says 15 Britons are being freed

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Bloomberg: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the 15 Britons seized 13 days ago are being pardoned for the prophet Muhammad’s birthday and are being released after his news conference in Tehran today. By Marc Wolfensberger and Ladane Nasseri

April 4 (Bloomberg) — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the 15 Britons seized 13 days ago are being pardoned for the prophet Muhammad’s birthday and are being released after his news conference in Tehran today.

The U.K. sailors and Royal Marines and their boats were seized 13 days ago in the waters separating Iran and Iraq.

“The Great Iranian people and the Islamic Republic, despite having the legal right to put these British sailors on trial, will pardon them,” Ahmadinejad said. “Their release will be given to the British population as a gift.”

The seizure had heightened tensions with Iran, which is under United Nations sanctions for enriching uranium for an atomic program that the U.S. and some of its allies allege is a cover for weapons development.

For the first since the incident, The U.K. government yesterday had direct contact with Iran’s Supreme National Security Council chief Ali Larijani.

Larijani, who represents Supreme Iranian Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, held talks by telephone yesterday with U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said.

During his news almost two-hour conference, Ahmadinejad said Iran “will never accept” any trespass into its waters and said the 15 Britons were in Iranian territory.

Iran insisted that the U.K. promises never to violate Iranian territory again, IRNA quoted an unidentified Iranian official as saying earlier.

Blair, Bush Reaction

“We welcome what the president has said about the release of our 15 personnel,” Blair’s office in London said in a statement read by a spokesman today. “We’re now establishing exactly what this means about the method and timing of their release.” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, “President Bush also welcomes the news.”

Crude oil fell after Iran Ahmadinejad said that he will pardon the seized British naval personnel. to mark a holiday. Prices surged last week after Iran captured the sailors.

Crude oil for May delivery fell almost a dollar, to $63.70 a barrel, on the New York Mercantile Exchange by 9:35 a.m. New York time. Crude rose to more than $68 a barrel on March 27 on speculation a rescue attempt for the captives would be mounted.

The U.K. has said the Britons’ two boats, from the frigate HMS Cornwall, were 1.7 nautical miles (3.1 kilometers) inside Iraqi waters when they were captured in the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Iran says the vessels were half a kilometer inside its territorial waters.

The Iranian president’s gesture follows an announcement that Iranians seized by U.S. forces in Iraq will be allowed to meet with an Iranian diplomat for the first time since their capture in January, Agence France-Presse reported, citing IRNA.

Ahmadinejad said the release of the sailors was “one-way” and wasn’t linked to the five or the release of an Iranian diplomat in Iraq yesterday.

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