Iran-UK spar over caught British sailors
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Last Updated: Wednesday, December 02, 2009, 00:32
  
Tehran: Tehran warned on Tuesday that it will take strong action against five detained British sailors if it is proven they had "bad intentions" when their racing yacht entered Iran's Persian Gulf waters and was seized.

The detention could heighten tensions between Iran and major world powers, including Britain, that are demanding a halt to Tehran's controversial nuclear program.

London rushed to keep the incident from getting tangled up in politics — wary of how political tensions have snarled attempts to free three Americans arrested by Iran this summer after they strayed across the border from Iraq, reportedly by accident during a hike.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said "there is certainly no question of any malicious intent on the part of these five young people."

Britain says the 60-foot yacht, called Kingdom of Bahrain, drifted inadvertently into Iranian waters while en route from Bahrain to a race off Dubai when Iranian forces stopped it Wednesday.

"This is a human story ... It's got nothing to do with politics, it's got nothing to do with the nuclear enrichment program," Miliband said. "We are keen this be resolved as soon as possible."

But the Foreign Office said it had been pressing Iran since Wednesday to confirm where the yachtsmen are being held and to allow consular officials to meet them. A week later, "the delay in providing a full explanation of what had happened and clarity on Iranian intentions (are) a matter of increasing concern," it said in a statement.

The head of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's office said Iran will prosecute the Britons if they intended to "violate the national security" of Iran.

"Naturally if bad intentions on the part of these individuals are proven, there will be a serious and strong attitude toward them," Esfandiar Rahim Mashai said, according to the Fars news agency. "The decision will be up to the judiciary, which is independent from the administration."

The news agency Farda cited unidentified sources saying the five would be released in a few hours. The agency is believed to be close to Tehran's mayor and does not necessarily reflect government thinking — and hours after the report, there was no word of any release.

The five were detained by Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard, Fars reported. The Guard, which runs its own naval forces, has the responsibility of protecting Iran's Persian Gulf waters. The Guard's navy chief, Gen. Ali Reza Tangsiri, said that if the five were stopped in the Gulf it would be by the Guard — though he did not confirm the detention.

It isn't the first time Iran has detained British sailors. In 2007, Iran seized 15 British military personnel in the Gulf, claiming they had entered Iranian waters, though Britain insisted they were taken in Iraqi waters where they were authorized to be. The Iranian government televised apologies by some of the captured crew — but eventually all were freed without an apology from Britain.

Britain summons Iranian envoy

Britain's Foreign Office summoned Iran's ambassador to London in for talks today on the detention of five British yachtsmen, a spokesman said.

"He was called for a meeting on the situation," a Foreign Office spokesman said, adding Britain had sought confirmation of where the five were being held and asked for consular access and a "swift resolution" to the situation.

The meeting between Iranian ambassador Rasoul Movahedian and the permanent under-secretary -- the top civil servant in the Foreign Office -- lasted about 30 minutes.

The British official "reiterated the points we have already urged (on the Iranian) ministry of foreign affairs: confirmation of where they're being held; granting consular access and for a swift resolution," the spokesman said.

-PTI inputs


First Published: Wednesday, December 02, 2009, 00:32


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