Standoff defused as Iran frees UK sailors
By Gareth Smyth and Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran and Daniel Dombey in London
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 4 2007 14:26 | Last updated: April 5 2007 14:30
Fifteen British navy personnel flew home to London on Thursday after the Iranian crisis came to an end on Wednesday when Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Iran’s president, announced that all the detainees would go free.
Speaking after two days in which London and Tehran have intensified diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad said that the sailors and marines detained since March 23 would be released as a “gift to the British people” on the occasion of Easter and Passover.
Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s decision defuses a dispute that had increased tensions in the Persian Gulf, threatened to overshadow the last days in office of Tony Blair, British prime minister, and pushed up the price of oil.
Crude futures dipped 60 cents to $64.04 a barrel in midday trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange after the announcement. The futures contract on Tuesday recorded its biggest decline in nearly a month ending $1.30 lower at $64.64 a barrel.
“When we do something from Islamic compassion, we expect nothing in return,” said Mr Ahmadi-Nejad. “Although the Iranian nation has the authority and legal right to put on trial the British military people, Iran will [instead] acquit them.”
Wednesday’s surprise move followed Tuesday’s return to Tehran of Jalal Sharafi, a senior diplomat freed two months after being kidnapped and by a report from IRNA, Iran’s official news agency, that Tehran would for the first time gain access to five Iranians held by US forces in Iraq since January.
The US says it has received an “informal” request for Iranian consular access to the five. But Iran, the US and Britain have all denied linkage between the cases of the Iranian and the British detainees.
British officials highlight the UK’s own campaign to put pressure on Iran through a combination of international lobbying and bilateral contacts.
Mr Ahmadi-Nejad insisted the British sailors and marines had “trespassed” into Iranian waters and awarded a medal to the Revolutionary Guard commander responsible for their capture.
Britain argues that the personnel were in Iraqi, not Iranian, waters when they were intercepted by the Revolutionary Guards. “I’m glad that our 15 service personnel have been released,” Mr Blair said.