Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Iran's President Frees UK Sailors

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Iran's President Frees UK Sailors

Article excerpt

Byline: By Gavin Cordon And Jon Smith

The British Service personnel captured by the Iranians were last night preparing to fly home after their 13-day ordeal was suddenly and dramatically brought to a close.

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, unexpectedly used a news conference in Tehran to announce that he was pardoning the 15 Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines as "a gift to the British people".

The news was greeted with relief and jubilation by the families of the detainees, while Tony Blair said he was "glad" that they were being released.

In a brief statement outside the door of No 10, the Prime Minister insisted that there had not been any negotiation with the Iranians.

"Throughout, we have taken a measured approach, firm but calm, not negotiating but not confronting either," he said. He thanked Britain's allies in the European Union, the United Nations Security Council and in the region for their support and said he hoped future differences could be resolved through peaceful dialogue.

Following the press conference in Tehran, Iranian television showed Mr Ahmadinejad shaking hands with some of the detainees, before they were handed over to diplomats at the British Embassy.

It was not clear what exactly prompted the Iranians to release the group now.

It followed the announcement last night by Downing Street that contact had been established with the influential head of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, who is close to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Despite regular meetings involving officials and diplomats in London and Tehran, the Government had previously struggled to establish an effective channel of communication with the Iranians.

While the conversation ( understood to have been with Mr Blair's foreign policy adviser Sir Nigel Sheinwald ( was seen as a positive sign, officials were nevertheless taken by surprise by the speed of yesterday's announcement.

Mr Ahmadinejad said at his press conference that Britain had sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry pledging that it would not enter Iranian waters again.

The Foreign Office last night would not discuss details of the diplomatic note it delivered over the weekend, although a spokesman stressed the Government had maintained that the personnel were in Iraqi waters when they were seized.

"We have been quite specific where our boats were," the spokesman said.

Mr Ahmadinejad built up to his release announcement with a lengthy criticism of Britain ( including its role in Iraq and Lebanon.

He then awarded a medal to the captain of the patrol boats which captured the British party, before criticising Britain for sending the mother of a small child ( Leading Seaman Faye Turney ( as part of the crew. "Why is there no respect for motherhood, affection? …

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