Iraq backs Britain over captured sailors

March 26, 2007 at 6:16 pm Leave a comment

 ONLINETIMES

The Iraqi government today waded into the row over the detention by Iran last week of 15 British sailors and Marines, demanding their release and insisting that they were seized in Iraqi waters, not Iranian waters as maintained by Tehran.

Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s Foreign Minister, made the comments after speaking yesterday to his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, whom he urged to free the British troops. Mr Zebari told Mr Mottaki that the personnel were operating as part of the US-led coalition, with the consent of the Iraqi Government and in line with UN resolutions.

“The minister stressed that they (the British naval personnel), according to Iraqi authorities’ information, were detained inside Iraqi territorial waters,” a statement from Mr Zebari’s ministry said.

They are part of the multinational forces (based in Iraq) with the approval of the Iraqi Government and in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolution.”

The comments will add pressure on Tehran, which has vehemently kept to its stance that the sailors and Marines violated Iranian territory, even though both Britain and the United States insist that the 15 were seized on Iraqi waters.

Yesterday, Mr Mottaki accused the captured Britons of having committed an act of “blatant aggression”, only hours after Tony Blair appealed for their release.

Today, Iran showed few signs of changing its position, with the Deputy Foreign Minister saying that his nation had sufficient evidence to prove its claims and the Britons were being interrogated as to whether their alleged foray into Iranian waters was “intentional or unintentional”.

“When it becomes clear, a decision will be made,” said Mehdi Mostafavi, adding that he held the British Government accountable for the incident.

According to state television, Mr Mostafavi also denied reports suggesting that Iran was hoping to trade the Britons for five Iranian officials being held in northern Iraq on suspicion of helping to provide arms and money to insurgents.

Nonetheless, in what appeared to mark marginally less hostile tones, the Iranian Foreign Ministry told the British ambassador in a meeting that it was working to resolve the situation as soon as possible, insisting the 15 were “fit and well”.

In the hour-long meeting, Geoffrey Adams, the British envoy to Tehran, pressed for details of where exactly the troops were being held, also asking for consular access to them – demands which have yet to be met.

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