Reuters are now reporting that the eight UK sailors have been released in to the custody of UK personnel and have been flown to Teheran.
Iran frees eight British servicemen
Thu June 24, 2004 07:37 AM ET
By Parisa Hafezi and Christian Oliver
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Eight British servicemen have been freed after three nights in the hands of Iranian Revolutionary Guards, ending a diplomatic
wrangle that had threatened to inflame tensions over Britain's presence in Iraq.
British diplomats took custody of the eight naval personnel and flew with them to Tehran from the Gulf area where they were detained on Monday after
straying into Iranian waters.
The servicemen were shown blindfolded on Iranian television shortly after their capture, but had also been treated by their captors later, as
diplomacy progressed, to chopped meat stew.
Diplomatic relations had already soured over British pressure on Iran's atomic programme but Foreign Secretary Jack Straw insisted on Thursday he
still backed a policy of engagement with Iran, despite the arrests.
"I am in no doubt at all that our policy of engagements with the government of Iran ... is the best approach," Straw said in London, shortly after
the eight were released.
"We have worked hard on diplomatic relations with Iran ... Sometimes the relationships are complicated."
Diplomats had been locked in negotiations deep into Wednesday night, deliberating over the return of the men's equipment -- an issue which remained
unresolved on Thursday. "That's another matter and is subject to further discussions," Straw said.
The eight were held in the sweltering province of Khuzestan in Iran's oil-rich southwest after they were seized on the Shatt al-Arab waterway along
the Iran-Iraq border.
Diplomats visited them on Wednesday and said they had been well looked after. Television showed them lounging on beds with bright quilts and the
semi-official Fars news agency quoted Revolutionary Guards saying they had given their guests a traditional diced-meat stew.
"At least now we can be pleased that they're happy and released. And I'm told that they are in very good spirits and well cared for," Straw
Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam channel had shown the men blindfolded and forced to walk in single file earlier in their detention.
Straw, in comments to reporters outside Prime Minister Tony Blair's Downing Street office, was deliberately conciliatory and avoided comment on the
TV images of the men that have outraged many in Britain.
"Obviously I'm very pleased indeed as I know their families and service colleagues will be," he said of their imminent homecoming. "I'd like to
express my thanks to my colleague, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, for his assistance."
The eight men had been taken to the British embassy in Tehran, from where they would probably return to their base in Iraq, a spokesman for Blair
While deeply opposed to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, Iran has in the past turned a blind eye to foreign aircraft and boats on its western border.
But hardline Iranian newspapers were unenthusiastic about the prospect of an early release. "What's the hurry in releasing the British spies?"
asked Jomhuri-ye Eslami, arguing the men had been equipped with espionage equipment.
A handful of protesters at Tehran's airport waved banners calling for the men to be put on trial.
Kharrazi had said an inquiry had found the men to have had no ill-intentions and had just veered off course in the wreck-infested straits.
Revolutionary Guards spokesman Massoud Jazaeri told Reuters the men would have been detained longer if they had been carrying such kit, but said what
they had was well suited to normal river patrol missions.