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BorderWatch:Iran
Archive: April 2007
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Iran Factor
Decision Comes After Iraqi and US Governments Urged Iranian Participation
04/29/2007 10:27 AM ET
Baghdad, Apr 29, (VOI) – Iranian chief negotiator Ali Larijani arrived on Sunday in Baghdad after Iran confirmed its participation in the two upcoming conferences, on Iraq's neighboring countries and the international pact with Iraq, to be hosted by the Egyptian Red Sea city of Sharm el-Sheikh from May 3-4, 2007, an Iraqi government source said. "Larijani is expected to meet Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and foreign Minister Hoshyar Zibari to discuss Iran's participation in both conferences later on Sunday," the source, who asked not to be named, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). Earlier, the Iraqi government said in a statement that Iran confirmed its participation in the two upcoming conferences on Iraq. "Iraq received this confirmation during a phone call between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on Sunday," according to the Iraqi government's statement received by the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI). Iranian Foreign Minsiter Manuchehr Motaki had said earlier on Sunday that his country would determine whether it would attend an international conference in Egypt next month to discuss the situation in Iraq. The Iraq's neighboring countries conference will be also attended by the five permanent UN Security Council members to discuss ways to stem the violence in Iraq. Earlier on Sunday Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zibari discussed preparations for the conferences in a phone call with his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Abul-Gheit. "The two ministers took up arrangements to convene the Iraq's neighboring countries and the International Pact with Iraq conferences in the Egyptian Red Sea city of Sharm el-Sheikh," VOI quoted an Iraqi foreign ministry statement as saying. Zibari briefed Abul-Gheit on the outcome of his recent talks in Iran and Turkey on their participation in the meetings, added the statement.
Diplomatic Buzz
Ministerial Meeting Next Month Set to Involve Neighbors in Iraq Peace Efforts
04/23/2007 10:04 AM ET
AFP/Getty

Condoleezza Rice has said it would be a “missed opportunity” if Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s foreign minister, did not attend the minister-level meeting scheduled for next month in Cairo, and urged the Iranian representative to join her in an interview with the Financial Times.

An Iranian foreign minisry spokesman said at a weekly press briefing Sunday, "The issue of Iran's participation or non-participation and level of its presence in the Iraq meeting, to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, is under study and will be clarified after a meeting between Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and his Iraqi counterpart Hoshiyar Zebari."

"Currently, we have problem with the venue of the meeting and topics which will be raised," he added.

Baghdad Buzz
Barbero Says Claim Based on Detainee Accounts
04/19/2007 3:10 PM ET
Iran has extended its support of Iraqi insurgency groups to include those of the Sunni persuasion, according to Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero, deputy director of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"We are seeing some indicators of Iranian support to the Sunni extremist groups in Iraq, which is a development," Barbero said, according to Reuters.

"Detainees in American custody have indicated that Iranian intelligence operatives have given support to Sunni insurgents and then we've discovered some munitions in Baghdad neighborhoods which are largely Sunni that were manufactured in Iran," he said.

American officials regularly accuses Iran of aiding the Shia militias, but if Barbero's comments prove true, it may indicate that the Islamic Republic has set aside more than a thousand years of animosity for a short-term strategic alliance against the US.

Asked why Iranian forces would support Sunnis, Barbero said they seek to "to destabilize Iraq, tie us down. Pretty much the same strategic goals they have by supporting the Shia insurgents."

Iran Factor
Sharafi Says US Involved in His Disappearance, Detention
04/12/2007 11:21 AM ET
Tehran, IRAN: Iranian diplomat Jalal Sharafi aided by his medical team displays wounds on his ankle at a press conference at the foreign ministry in Tehran, 11 April 2007.
Behrouz Mehri/AFp/Getty
Tehran, IRAN: Iranian diplomat Jalal Sharafi aided by his medical team displays wounds on his ankle at a press conference at the foreign ministry in Tehran, 11 April 2007.

Iranian diplomat Jalal Sharafi showed an assembly of journalists the lingering scars of his detention two-month detention on Wednesday, and reiterated charges that the wounds were inflicted by Iraqi security forces operating under the guidance of the US.

According to state-run Iranian TV, Sharafi told the assembled reporters that "a group of eight from Iraqi Intelligence Service (Istakhbarat) who were under command of the US forces tortured me psychologically and physically in a cell somewhere close to the Baghdad airport."

Mehrouz Behri/AFP/Getty

He said because of the torture, "my eardrum membrane tore up, my nose was broken, my lumbar vertebrae was damaged and my stomach started bleeding."

Last week, it was reported that Sharafi claimed the CIA had tortured him, but this week he backed of the specificity of that charge, saying only that there was one American present during some interrogations. He said, "Though I do not know the English language, through the Arabic translator, I found out he was American. He said he was in connection with the U.S. embassy."

AP reports that Sharafi had nine partially healed holes in his ankle and foot he said were caused by a drill. Shiite militiamen — some connected to Iraqi security forces — have been known to torture captives with drills.

Mehrouz Behri/AFP/Getty

"They tied my feet and hands and lashed my soles hundreds of times with cables and kicked and punched me," said Sharafi, who also showed traces of slash marks on his back. "They performed mock executions while my eyes were blindfolded and my hands and feet were bound." He said the drill torture occurred early in his captivity, and beatings took place throughout.

Sharafi said his interrogators were demanding that he confirm Iran was meddling inside Iraq, and lending assistance to the insurgency.

The AP confirmed with Peter G. Stocker, an official from the International Committee of the Red Cross who examined Sharafi on Wednesday, that his wounds "happened during his detention."

Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty

Sharafi said his captors moved him between locations in Iraq, according to Reuters. One location near Baghdad airport had electricity 24 hours a day, when most of Baghdad has daily power cuts, he said, and this showed that his captors were "not a mere terrorist group."

US officials have strongly denied any involvement in the disappearance, detention, or torture of Sharafi.

Iran Factor
Caldwell Reiterates Charges of Meddling by Tehran
04/11/2007 12:05 PM ET
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - APRIL 11: Weapons seized in Iraq are shown during a news conference April 11, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq.
Joe Raedle/Getty
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - APRIL 11: Weapons seized in Iraq are shown during a news conference April 11, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq.

The US military on Wednesday reiterated charges that Iran is supplying weaponry and training to the insurgency in Iraq.

“We know that (EFPs) are being in fact manufactured and smuggled into this country, and we know that training does go on in Iran for people to learn how to assemble them and how to employ them. We know that training has gone on as recently as this past month from detainees debriefs,” U.S. military spokesman Major-General William Caldwell said at a weekly briefing.

BAGHDAD, IRAQ - APRIL 11: Weapons seized in Iraq are shown during a news conference April 11, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq.
Joe Raedle/Getty
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - APRIL 11: Weapons seized in Iraq are shown during a news conference April 11, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq.

Caldwell showed the Baghdad press corps EFPs he said were manufactured in Iran, as well as mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades, which he said were found at a house and in a car in Baghdad this week.

“We also know that training still is being conducted in Iran for insurgent elements from Iraq. We know that as recent as last week from debriefing personnel,” he said.

The general would not specify which arm of the Iranian government was doing the training, but referred to the trainers “surrogates” of Iran's intelligence agency. Caldwell also said that two recently arrested insurgents reported having received training in Syria.

The AP writes that sources inside a splinter group of the Madi Army reported that "there are as many as 4,000 members of their organization that were trained in Iran and that they have stockpiles of EFPs."

Diplomatic Buzz
US Military Has Held Five Iranians Since January
04/09/2007 7:12 PM ET
UNITED NATIONS, UNITED NATIONS: Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki speaks before the United Nations Security Council 24 March 2007.
Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty
UNITED NATIONS, UNITED NATIONS: Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki speaks before the United Nations Security Council 24 March 2007.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Monday called on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to adopt immediate measures to compel the US military to release the five Iranian diplomats detained after a raid on their office in Irbil on January 11.

Mottaki, in a letter to the Security Council reported by state-run Iranian media, asked that the UN body avoid any double standard, in an obvious reference to Iran's release of the detained British troops last week.

"Despite repeated demands from Iranian and Iraqi governments for the freedom of five Iranian diplomats, they are still in custody of foreign forces in Iraq," he said in the message.

"Unfortunately, UNSC has not paid attention to the demands for examining the violation of international laws and principles ruling the diplomatic and consular affairs."

Video
Brits Filmed Talking, Laughing, Eating, Playing
04/09/2007 12:30 PM ET
A video grab taken from the Iranian Arabic-speaking television station Al-Alam TV 09 April 2007 shows British Lt Felix Carman (R) sharing a light moment with Christopher Air at an unidentified time and place in Iran.
AFP/Getty
A video grab taken from the Iranian Arabic-speaking television station Al-Alam TV 09 April 2007 shows British Lt Felix Carman (R) sharing a light moment with Christopher Air at an unidentified time and place in Iran.

In an obvious attempt to counter last week's account by the formerly detained British personnel that they were mistreated and subjected to psychological pressure while in captivity, on Monday Iran released a new videotape showing the men and woman talking, eating, laughing, and playing pingpong and chess.

It was unclear where or when the video was recorded, and it is very likely that the short film does not accurately represent the overall experience of the sailors and marines' two weeks of detention.

Iran Factor
Sharafi Resurfaced This Week After Two Months Missing
04/07/2007 5:54 PM ET
Tehran, IRAN: A video grab taken off Iranian Arabic-language television station Al-Alam 03 April 2007 shows Jalal Sharafi (L) a top Iranian diplomat seized at gunpoint in Baghdad two months ago being welcomed by his Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki upo
AFP/Getty
Tehran, IRAN: A video grab taken off Iranian Arabic-language television station Al-Alam 03 April 2007 shows Jalal Sharafi (L) a top Iranian diplomat seized at gunpoint in Baghdad two months ago being welcomed by his Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki upo

Jalal Sharafi, the Iranian diplomat disappeared on February 4, 2007 and released this week, is claiming he was kidnapped and tortured by American troops and agents of an Iraqi organization, acting under the supervision of the CIA.

Sharafi revealed details of his captivity in an interview with IRNA, state-run Iranian TV. IRNA reported, though did not show pictures proving, that signs of torture are evident on Sharafi's body. The diplomat is now reportedly undergoing medical treatment in Tehran.

US officials were quick to deny Sharafi's account. "The United States had nothing to do with Mr. Sharafi's detention and we welcome his return to Iran," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe..

"The Iranian propaganda machine has been in overdrive since they paraded the British sailors around on TV. This is just the latest theatrics of a government trying to deflect attention away from its own unacceptable actions," Johndroe added.

In the interview with IRNA, Sarafi explained, "While shopping at a store in one of Baghdad streets, I was kidnapped by several agents who were holding identity cards of Iraq's Ministry of Defense.

"Then the kidnappers took me to a base near Baghdad Airport and I was investigated by a few interrogators. Some of them were speaking in Arabic and others in English."

The interrogation mainly concerned Iran's presence in and influence on Iraq, and Sarafi said they kept asking about the extent of Iran's assistance to Nouri al-Maliki's government and Iraqi groups.

"Upon hearing my response about Iran's official relations with the Iraqi government and officials, they continued torturing me," added the diplomat.

"Then they attempted to encourage me to cooperate with them by changing their approach. But I told them that they can contact Iranian Embassy in Baghdad for any information, given that I am only a diplomat and cannot act beyond the limit of my legal duties."

Sharafi was kidnapped on February 4, 2007 in the Karradah district of Baghdad, and finally released on April 5.

Full Text
Retract Statements of Having Crossed Into Iranian Waters
04/06/2007 2:56 PM ET
Chivenor, UNITED KINGDOM: Royal Navy personel (from L) Mne Joe Tindell, OM Arthur Batchelor, Cpt Christopher Air and Lt Felix Carman attend a press conference about their experiences while being held captive in Iran at the RMB Chivenor in Devon, 06 April 2007.
Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty
Chivenor, UNITED KINGDOM: Royal Navy personel (from L) Mne Joe Tindell, OM Arthur Batchelor, Cpt Christopher Air and Lt Felix Carman attend a press conference about their experiences while being held captive in Iran at the RMB Chivenor in Devon, 06 April 2007.

British servicemembers detained by Iran for the past two weeks finally had a chance to give their own account of their capture and time in captivity at a press conference on Friday.

The statement given by the crew's two most senior members, Navy Lieutenant Felix Carman, 26, and Royal Marine Captain Chris Air, 25, among other things, recounts the tense moments when Iranian forces showed up on the scene. The way they tell it makes it sound as if the Iranians were looking for a fight, illustrating how easily the diplomatic incident could have escalated into something much more serious.

Here are some highlights followed by the full text of the statement.

On where they were when picked up by the Revolutionary Guard:

Lieutenant Felix Carman: "Let me make it absolutely clear, irrespective of what has been said in the past, when we were detained by the IRG we were inside internationally recognized Iraqi territorial waters and I can clearly state we were 1.7 nautical miles from Iranian waters."

On why they didn't resist capture:

Royal Marine Captain Chris Air: "The Iranian Navy did not turn up lightly armed; they came with intent, heavy weapons, and very quickly surrounded us. We were equipped, armed and had rules of engagement for boarding operations within Iraqi water.

"We were not prepared to fight a heavily armed force who it is our impression came out deliberately into Iraqi waters to take us prisoner. Reasoning with the Iranians was our only option. We tried. We did our utmost to de-escalate the situation, but our words fell on deaf ears. They had come with a clear purpose and were never going to leave without us."

On why they "confessed":

Lieutenant Carman: "We were interrogated most nights, and presented with two options. If we admitted we had strayed, we would be on a plane back to the UK soon. If we didn't we faced up to seven years in prison. We all at one time or another made a conscious decision to make a controlled release of non-operational information."

Full Statement



Lt. Carman: "Yesterday we were reunited with our families after a 14 day ordeal that none of us will forget.

"On arrival at London Heathrow we were given the news that four UK servicemen and a civilian interpreter had been killed in Iraq. We would like to pass on our thoughts and condolences to the families of those who died serving their country.

"We would also like, as a group, to thank the staff of the British Embassy in Tehran and the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence for all their work in securing our release. We understand a great deal of effort has been going on behind the scenes to enable us to be returned to the UK and for that we are very grateful.

"We would also like to thank British Airways and London Heathrow for making our return so comfortable, quick and easy.

"Lastly I would like to thank the very many members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines who have been working so hard over the last 2 weeks supporting our families and friends and for arranging our return to here."

"On Friday 23 March I along with 14 of my colleagues were part of a routine boarding patrol. We deployed from HMS Cornwall in two Rigid Inflatable Boats and patrolled into an area south of the Shatt Al Arab waterway. This was meant to be a routine boarding operation and followed approximately 66 similar such boardings over the previous four weeks.

"We approached an unidentified merchant vessel that our supporting helicopter had identified as worth investigation. We carried out a completely compliant boarding with the full cooperation of the Master and crew. The RM secured the vessel and the RN element of the boarding party then arrived and commenced a thorough search of the ship. This was in complete accordance with our UN mandate and as part of an International Coalition.

"We were equipped with Xeres true navigational equipment and handheld GPS for backup. The helicopter in support provided continuous navigational confirmation and we were also linked to HMS Cornwall who were monitoring our exact position at all times. Let me make it absolutely clear, irrespective of what has been said in the past, when we were detained by the IRG we were inside internationally recognized Iraqi territorial waters and I can clearly state we were 1.7 nautical miles from Iranian waters."

Capt. Air: "It was during the boarding that we noticed the helicopter had returned to 'Mother,' and we started calling the ship on VHF to find out why. A short while later two speed boats were spotted approaching rapidly about 400 meters away.

"I ordered everyone to make their weapons ready and ordered the boarding party to return to the boats. By the time all were back on board, two Iranian boats had come alongside. One officer spoke good English and I explained that we were conducting a routine operation, as allowed under a UN mandate.

"But when we tried to leave, they prevented us by blocking us in. By now it was becoming increasingly clear that they had arrived with a planned intent.

"Some of the Iranian sailors were becoming deliberately aggressive and unstable. They rammed our boat and trained their heavy machine guns, RPGs and weapons on us.

"Another six boats were closing in on us. We realized that our efforts to reason with these people were not making any headway. Nor were we able to calm some of the individuals down.

"It was at this point that we realized that had we resisted there would have been a major fight, one we could not have won with consequences that would have had major strategic impact. We made a conscious decision to not engage the Iranians and do as they asked. They boarded our boats, removed our weapons and steered the boats towards the Iranian shore."

Lt. Carman: "On arrival at a small naval base, we were blindfolded, stripped of all our kit and led to a room where I declared myself as the officer in charge and was introduced to a local commander.

"Two hours later we were moved to a second location and throughout the night were subjected to random interrogations. The questions were aggressive and the handling rough, but it was no worse than that.

"The following morning we were flown to Tehran and transported to a prison where the atmosphere changed completely. We were blindfolded, our hands were bound and we were forced up against a wall. Throughout our ordeal we faced constant psychological pressure.

"Later we were stripped and then dressed in pajamas. The next few nights were spent in stone cells, approximately 8ft by 6ft, sleeping on piles of blankets. All of us were kept in isolation.

"We were interrogated most nights, and presented with two options. If we admitted we had strayed, we would be on a plane back to the UK soon. If we didn't we faced up to seven years in prison. We all at one time or another made a conscious decision to make a controlled release of non-operational information.

"We were kept in isolation until the last few nights when we were allowed to gather for a few hours together, in the full glare of Iranian media.

"On day 12 we were taken to a Governmental complex, blindfolded and then given three piece suits to wear. We watched the president's statement live on TV, and it was only then that we realized we were to be sent home.

"It goes without saying that there was a huge moment of elation. We were made to line up to meet the president, one at a time. My advice to everyone was not to mess this up now -- we all wanted to get home.

"Afterwards -- and still blindfolded -- we were taken back to the hotel and for the first time met with UK representatives including the ambassador before boarding our flight back to Heathrow."

Capt. Air: "In the short time we have been back we have not been able to see all that has been broadcast or written about our ordeal. We are aware that many people have questioned why we allowed ourselves to be taken in the first place and why we allowed ourselves to be shown by the Iranian authorities on television.

"Let me be absolutely clear, from the outset it was very apparent that fighting back was simply not an option. Had we chosen to do so then many of us would not be standing here today. Of that I have no doubts.

"The Iranian Navy did not turn up lightly armed; they came with intent, heavy weapons, and very quickly surrounded us. We were equipped, armed and had rules of engagement for boarding operations within Iraqi water.

"We were not prepared to fight a heavily armed force who it is our impression came out deliberately into Iraqi waters to take us prisoner. Reasoning with the Iranians was our only option. We tried. We did our utmost to de-escalate the situation, but our words fell on deaf ears. They had come with a clear purpose and were never going to leave without us.

"The Iranians are not our enemies. We are not at war with them. Our rules of engagement at that time stated that we could only use lethal force if we felt that we were in imminent danger of a loss of life. By the time the true intent of the Iranians had become apparent - and we could have legitimately fought back - it was too late for action.

"We were completely surrounded, and in addition to the loss of life, any attempted to fight back would caused a major international incident and an escalation of tension within the region. Our team had seconds to make a decision and we believe that we made the right decision. We still believe this was the right thing to do."

Lt. Carman: "Some have questioned why HMS Cornwall did not provide greater protection for the team. HMS Cornwall is there to guard the vital oil platforms and command the coalition forces. She is also the platform by where boarding teams can launch from and patrol out. Not only should she not have been closer to us but she physically could not have been, the water is simply too shallow. We are all immensely proud to be members of her crew and look forward to rejoining her.

"I would just like to stress three points at this stage:

"When taken by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard we were well inside Iraqi territorial waters.

"The detention was clearly illegal and not a pleasant experience.

"We as a group held out for as long as we though appropriate. We then complied up to a point with our captors.

"We remain immensely proud of our team. Their courage and dignity throughout their illegal detention was in line with the best tradition of the service.

"Throughout our ordeal we have tried to remain very much a team. No one individual should be singled out but we are now very aware of the special treatment singled out to Faye Turney. Faye is a young mother and wife. She volunteered to join the Royal Navy and is very proud to continue to serve. She is a highly professional operator and we are incredibly proud to have her as part of our team.

"The fact she is a woman has been used as a propaganda tool by Iran. This is deeply regrettable. She is coming to terms with what has happened to her and not only Faye and her family but all of us are finding the press focus very uncomfortable and difficult and specifically request that you give all of us the space and privacy we need when we return to our homes."
The Latest
Military Blunders Led to Brits' Detention, Officials Say
04/06/2007 1:36 PM ET
CHIVENOR, UNITED KINGDOM: A handout photograph dated 05 April 2007, shows British Leading Seaman Faye Turney (2nd R) celebrating with Arthur Batchelor (R) and Andrew Henderson (L) at RAF Chivenor in Devon in south-west England.
Ministry of Defence/AFP/Getty
CHIVENOR, UNITED KINGDOM: A handout photograph dated 05 April 2007, shows British Leading Seaman Faye Turney (2nd R) celebrating with Arthur Batchelor (R) and Andrew Henderson (L) at RAF Chivenor in Devon in south-west England.

The British Ministry of Defense has launched a wide-ranging inquiry into missteps leading to the capture of fifteen naval officers by Iranian forces on March 23.

UK Military officials have already blamed the incident on a "catalogue of errors, from poor intelligence to inadequate training and lack of firepower," writes Richard Beeston for the Times.

It has become clear that the officers were inadequately equipped to defend themselves. At the time of their capture, they had disembarked from their vessel, the HMS Cornwall, and boarded two inflatable boats in order to board and inspect another ship.

At that point the officers, who possessed only light side-arms, were no match for the six Iranian vessels that surrounded them, Beeston writes.

Officials are also reassessing the appropriateness of the ships it uses in the shallow waters of the Gulf.

The officers were captured in the 120-mile Shatt al-Arab waterway separating Iraq and Iran, which was too narrow for a ship of the HMS Corwall's size. As a result, it was miles away when the Iranian ships ambushed the officers in their inflatable boats.

Also under investigation is why a helicopter that took off from the HMS Cornwall failed to rescue the officers. The helicopter was armed with machine guns but was scrambled in the course of its mission.

A naval source also said that a request for the addition of a sniper unit to the vessel had been denied by the Ministry of Defense.

“That has now been rectified,” the source said, according to the Times.

British officials are expected to question the officers, who returned to the UK Thursday, as to why they admitted to being in Iranian waters, the Age reports. Throughout its two-week standoff with Iran, Britain adamantly denied that the boarding party had entered the Iranian portion of the waterway.

While a military spokesman praised the officers' conduct throughout their ordeal, another source said that they had been given no "conduct after capture" training and that the issue was under review.

As a result of the incident - the second seizure of British navy forces by Iran in three years - the UK has for the moment suspended all boarding operations, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff Jonathon Band said Friday.

The Latest
Blair: "No Deal" to Free the Fifteen; Accuses Iran of Supporting Militias
04/05/2007 2:57 PM ET
The fifteen British crewmembers pose for a photograph upon their arrival at London's Heathrow airport on Thursday.
Photo by Carl de Souza/AFP.
The fifteen British crewmembers pose for a photograph upon their arrival at London's Heathrow airport on Thursday.

15 British sailors and marines returned to the UK today after nearly two weeks in Iranian custody.

After being “pardoned” by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the crew were flown first class on British Airways from Tehran to London Heathrow, where they lined up before media, after which they were transported by helicopter to Devon’s Royal Marines Barracks Chivenor, where they were greeted by family, friends, colleagues and British officials.

The crew will undergo debriefing and medical and psychological assessment, although the British Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said the crew looked "very happy" and "in good shape," BBC News Online reports.

Prime Minister Tony Blair held a press conference outside 10 Downing Street where he said that “no deal” had been done with Iran to free the 15.

Leading Seaman Faye Turney, leaving the runway of London's Heathrow airport on Thursday.
Photo by Bruno Vincent/Getty.
Leading Seaman Faye Turney, leaving the runway of London's Heathrow airport on Thursday.
Blair expressed happiness that the crew returned “safe and unharmed” to the UK. He also turned his anti-Iran rhetoric up again, saying the circumstances of the crew’s return contrasted with the "sober and ugly reality" of four UK troops killed in Basra.

Blair also renewed allegations that "elements of the Iranian regime" were "financing, arming and supporting terrorism in Iraq," BBC News Online reports.

It was "too early to say" if the four UK troops killing is linked to Iraqi militias enjoying Iranian support, the prime minister said.

Blair defended his government’s “dual-track strategy” in the crisis, applying international pressure and support while remaining open to talks with Iran. “"In my view it would be utterly naive to believe that our personnel would have been released unless both elements of the strategy had been present," he said.

"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,” he said, adding, "We made it clear at the outset we weren't going to do that and we held firm to that position throughout".

BBC reports that a senior government source said that the role of regional governments in expressing willingness to lobby Iran may have had an effect in the resolution of the crisis. The official also ruled out the idea that there was a deal cut with Iran, but did suggest that the Iraqi government may have taken “initiative” in the matter.

When asked if the UK forces had been captured in Iranian waters, Blair said that British forces should not be in Iranian waters -- but added "it is our contention that they weren't."

Iran Factor
Republican Guard Members Decorated, Brits to be Flown Home
04/04/2007 09:59 AM ET
Tehran, IRAN: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a news conference in Tehran, where he announced that the 15 British sailors captured by Iran will be released immediately after the presser 04 April 2007.
Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty
Tehran, IRAN: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a news conference in Tehran, where he announced that the 15 British sailors captured by Iran will be released immediately after the presser 04 April 2007.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced in a press conference in Tehran that the 15 British sailors and marines will be released today.

"I announce their freedom and their return to their people," he said. "They will be free after our meeting. They will go to the airport and will join their families."

The Iranian president said the release was not part of a swap with Iranian prisoners in Iraq, and said that he would give the British military personnel amnesty and a pardon.

"Our government has pardoned them, it is a gift from our people.... It has nothing to do with this analysis. If we were to move forward on that basis things would have looked different. We approached the subject on a humanitarian basis. It was a unilateral decision on our end."

Iranian state media reported that the detained Brits "shouted for joy" upon hearing the plans for their release.

Downing Street released a statement responding to the news:

"We welcome what the president has said about the release of our 15 personnel. We are now establishing exactly what this means in terms of the method and timing of their release."

The press conference in which the announcement was made also included a ceremony awarding commander of the Iranian coast guard captain Abolqassem Amangah a third degree medal of courage for the capture of the British crew members on March 23.

The Latest
UK-Iran Making Diplomatic Overtures to Resolving Episode
04/02/2007 6:00 PM ET
Royal Navy Crewman Nathan Thomas Summers, as shown on Iranian televison on Friday.
Royal Navy Crewman Nathan Thomas Summers, as shown on Iranian televison on Friday.

Monday saw the first break in the tension between the UK and Iran over the standoff after the Revolutionary Guard detained British 15 sailors in a disputed area of the waters off the Iran-Iraq border 11 days ago.

Speaking in an interview on Britain's Channel 4 News, Ali Larijani, of Iran's Supreme National Security Council said he favored diplomacy.

"Definitely our priority would not be trial, except that the UK government would be insisting on not solving the problem through diplomatic channels."

Further, he continued, "Our priority is to solve the problem through diplomatic channels. We are not interested in having this issue get further complicated.... I believe there should be a delegation to review the case, to clarify the case first of all, to clarify whether they have been in our territorial waters or not."

Larijani continued to assert the Brits had been in Iranian territorial waters and "a guarantee must be given that such violations will not be repeated".

The Foreign Office released a statement saying that it was studying Mr. Larijani's comments and that:

"There remain some differences between us, but we can confirm we share his preference for early bilateral discussions to find a diplomatic solution to this problem.

"We will be following up with the Iranian authorities tomorrow, given our shared desire to make early progress."

The Foreign Office maintained its position that the personnel were seized in Iraqi waters, though it is widely understood that one topic under discussion includes negotiations to establish an agreed border in the countries' disputed territorial waters.

The BBC reported UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman said there was "a lot going on behind the scenes".

"What happens next depends on the Iranian response," he added.

Defence Secretary Des Browne has confirmed the government is in "bilateral" communication with Iran over the personnel.

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