Iraq presses Iran to release 15 Britons

From Reuters

Iraq’s foreign minister has urged Iran to free 15 detained British sailors and marines in a telephone call with his Iranian counterpart, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Iran says the military personnel entered Iranian waters illegally, but Britain says they were conducting a routine search of shipping in Iraqi waters in the Shatt al-Arab waterway between Iran and Iraq.

The ministry said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told his counterpart Sunday evening that “according to the information available to the Iraqi authorities, those soldiers were detained inside Iraqi waters.”

“They were working with the multinational forces with the approval of the Iraqi government and according to U.N. Security Council resolutions,” it quoted the minister as saying.


Zebari “called for the release of the detainees,” the ministry added.

On Monday, Britain said the Iranians reported that the detainees were well but did not say where they were being held.

Britain said two boatloads of Royal Navy sailors and marines had been searching a merchant vessel on a U.N.-approved mission in Iraqi waters Friday when Iranian gunboats encircled and captured them.

London has demanded the service members’ immediate release, but Tehran said Sunday that it was considering charging the Britons with illegally entering its waters.

Iranian Vice Foreign Minister Mahdi Mostafavi said Monday that the Britons were being interrogated to determine whether they had crossed into Iranian territory on purpose.

“When that is clear, the appropriate decision will be made,” Iranian state television cited Mostafavi as saying.

The incident has added to high tensions with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Saturday, the U.N. Security Council levied arms and financial sanctions on Iran for refusing to suspend nuclear work, but major powers also offered new talks and renewed an economic and technological incentive package offer. The West suspects Iran is seeking to make nuclear bombs, a charge Tehran denies.