NewsSpecial WireText of Blair's press conference on sailors' release

Text of Blair’s press conference on sailors’ release

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Iran Focus: London, Apr. 05 – The following is the text of a press conference given by British Prime Minister Tony Blair as 15 British marines and sailors were returning to the UK from Iran where they had been held captive for nearly two weeks: Iran Focus

London, Apr. 05 – The following is the text of a press conference given by British Prime Minister Tony Blair as 15 British marines and sailors were returning to the UK from Iran where they had been held captive for nearly two weeks:

Tony Blair:

Good Morning to you. Just as we rejoice at the return of our 15 Service personnel, so today we are also grieving and mourning for the loss of our soldiers in Basra who were killed as a result of a terrorist act. So on the one hand we are glad that our Service personnel returned safe and unharmed from their captivity, but on the other we return to the sober and ugly reality of what is happening through terrorism in Iraq, terrorism designed specifically to thwart the will of the international community because our forces are there with full United Nations authority, and thwart, obviously, the will of the democratically elected government of Iraq that wants us there.

Now it is far too early to say that the particular terrorist act that killed our forces was an act committed by terrorists who were backed by any elements of the Iranian regime, so I make no allegation in respect of that particular incident, but the general picture, as I have said before, is that there are elements, at least, of the Iranian regime that are backing, financing, arming, supporting terrorism in Iraq and I repeat that our forces are there specifically at the request of the Iraqi government and with the full authority of the United Nations.

This is maybe the right moment to reflect on our relationship with Iran and over the past two weeks we have pursued very much a dual track strategy – being open to bilateral dialogue with the Iranian regime but at the same time mobilising international support and pressure, whether in the United Nations or Europe, the United States of America or our allies out in the region. And in my view it would be utterly naïve to think that our personnel would have been released unless both elements of the strategy had been present.

And that I think has got to continue to be our strategy in dealing with Iran. It is correct that over the past couple of weeks there have been new and interesting lines of communication open up with the Iranian regime and it is sensible for us to continue to pursue those. However, the international community has got to remain absolutely steadfast in enforcing its will, whether it is in respect of nuclear weapons or in respect of the support of any part of the Iranian regime for terrorism, particularly when directed against democratic governments. And the choice in a sense is a choice that has to be made by Iran because as I have said before, and I say again, the possibility of a different relationship with the international community is there, but it has to be based on proper support for the law of that community and the choice in the end is one that Iran will have to make.

Once again let me repeat my profound sympathy for the families of the soldiers that have lost their lives, they are very brave and committed people who are doing such vital and important work out there.

Question:

Prime Minister, could I ask you personally, how uneasy you felt watching that stage managed press conference yesterday? Would you agree that Iran and the Iranian President could come out the winners?

Tony Blair:

First of all I don’t think really people are taken in much by the theatre, I think certainly our own public and international community are sufficiently intelligent to realise what was happening there. I think what is more important is to recognise though that it was only by being calm and firm at the same time that we managed to come through this with the personnel being released, and I don’t really want to comment on what President Ahmadinejad said. In the end I am afraid when you are the Prime Minister and you have got 15 of your Service personnel and their families in a state of the most acute anxiety, they should come first. And I think what has actually happened is that we have managed to secure the release of our personnel I think more quickly than many people anticipated, and have done so incidentally, and I want to make this very, very clear, without any deal, without any negotiation, without any side agreement of any nature whatever. We made it clear at the outset we weren’t going to do that and we held firm to that position throughout.

Question:

It sounds unfortunately like despite the fact that these personnel are returning as we speak, it is back to business as usual, pointing the finger again at Tehran’s involvement with Shia militia in the south of Iraq. It doesn’t sound as though frankly, despite the diplomatic channels between here and Tehran, that much has changed in your view?

Tony Blair:

Well I think that the reality is these events show us that yes of course we are glad that our Service personnel have been returned safe and unharmed, but there is a continuing attempt by terrorism to stop our forces carrying out what is a task and a duty they are performing with the full support of the United Nations and at the request of the democratically elected Iraqi government. And therefore the position that we have to have is to say at the same time as we are open to bilateral dialogue, and to pursue the lines of communication that have opened up in the last two weeks, we have to hold absolutely firm on the position of the international community in relation to support by any elements of the Iranian regime for terrorism. There can be no possible justification for this.

And one of the reasons why it is so important that at the same time as we say look there is a different relationship there available to Iran if it wants it, we also say but we will not tolerate attempts by terrorism to kill our forces, attempts to support terrorism around the world, or attempts to secure nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community’s will.

And let me make it clear to the Iranian people yet again, we have no quarrel with the Iranian people at all, and indeed in respect of the nuclear ambitions of Iran, if the ambition, as they say it is, is for civil nuclear power and for scientific progress, let me make it clear the international community stands ready to help Iran with that, not merely to allow Iran to develop civil nuclear capability, but to help in the development of that civil nuclear capability, but obviously we have to make sure that the non-proliferation aspects of the international treaties that govern the issue of nuclear weapons are upheld. And so in a sense you are right, it is a moment when we reflect on our joy at the return, unharmed, of our personnel, but as I said earlier the ugly and sober reality of attempts by terrorism to stop the democratic will of the Iraqi people and the international community’s will being properly upheld.

Question:

Prime Minister, President Ahmadinejad talked about a letter from the British authorities making a promise about not going into Iranian waters in future. You say there have been no negotiations, no deal, has there been any understanding reached. Is there any linkage with the Iranians being held by US authorities in Iraq, and are there going to be any follow-up talks about the question of boundaries between Iranian waters and Iraqi waters?

Tony Blair:

Well these are two quite separate questions. It has always been our position that we acknowledge that our forces should not be in Iranian waters, obviously it is our contention that they weren’t, so that is, as it were, nothing new. But let me make it absolutely clear, no there are no agreements about any Iranian elements that may be held in Iraq because they are being held in Iraq as the result of the wrongful interference with the business of Iraq. But you know, I would like to return to the point that I made earlier because over these past couple of weeks it is correct to say that there are channels of communication that have opened up that have not been available to us in the same way before, and I am not just content, I think it is sensible that we pursue those channels of communication.

But in the end there can’t be any misunderstanding as to the basis upon which that communication takes place. If Iran has genuine concerns about the region, and of course it is absolutely right, it is of vital strategic interest to them and the region, if they have concerns about their interests in the region or concerns about aspects of what is happening there, these are things that can be discussed, not just with us but with the international community. But what you cannot have, and as I say I make no allegation about this particular incident, but what you cannot have is a situation where there is an attempt to subvert the will of the democratically elected government in Iraq or the international community. Now we need to have that dialogue on that very clear basis.

Question:

Now our 15 personnel are home, is there anything that you now think could have been done differently to get them home sooner? Would you still have pursued the UN route, which seems to have angered the Iranians. And after all it was Nigel Sheinwald that seemed to hold the key to unlocking this crisis, not the Foreign Secretary.

Tony Blair:

Well first of all let me knock on the head very firmly any notion that had we simply sat back and not mobilised the international community, the support of Europe, the United Nations, the United States of America, other partners out in the region, we would be in a better position. These are judgments that you make. My judgment is that it would be extraordinarily naïve to think that is the case. Now in the end, yes it was a bilateral dialogue that resolved this, but I think the dual track of having international pressure mobilised and the door opened to that dialogue, without any deals, without any negotiation, I think it was the dual track that delivered this.

But you know these are judgments people make, but my experience of these situations is that you need to create the context in which you are likely to get the best outcome in a bilateral way. And in respect of Margaret and the Foreign Office, they were absolutely crucial throughout this, and it is not surprising that you have also got in an issue of such importance, particularly when the President of Iran is engaged himself, that you have the head of government here engaged also.

Question:

How can you ensure this doesn’t happen again, given that you clearly maintain that they would still maintain that they were doing a job that they were mandated to do by the UN?

Tony Blair:

Well I am sure that the Royal Navy will look at the situation very carefully, although incidentally I totally support the action that they took, and indeed the actions that the personnel took at the time, for the reasons I gave at the time. And remember these types of events where they would go and board a vehicle in order to make sure precisely that we protect the integrity of Iraq, this type of situation they have been doing hundreds of times and there was nothing in particular to lead them to think that this was going to be any different. So I think some of the criticism that has been directed is actually misplaced, but obviously the Navy will go back over the incident and analyse it carefully.

Question:

Were you surprised in any way by the confessions, whatever degree of duress there was for the captives held, and have you any suspicions about how those confessions were obtained?

Tony Blair:

Well I think that is far too early to say and I have no doubt there will be a full debrief, but I don’t think anyone who has watched these types of situations was very surprised by any of that.

Question:

What about the training for the British forces in the future who may find themselves captives?

Tony Blair:

I think that is a matter for the Armed Forces rather than me.

Question:

Inaudible.

Tony Blair:

No, I think they will obviously be looked after now by the Navy and by the Armed Forces and that I think is very much as it should be.

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