- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

TEHRAN - Iranian state TV showed video yesterday of 15 British sailors and marines who were seized last week, including a female captive in a white tunic and a black head scarf who said the British boats had “trespassed” in Iranian waters.

Britain called the broadcast “completely unacceptable” and said it was concerned that the statements from sailor Leading Seaman Faye Turney were coerced. The British government earlier released what it called proof the boats’ crews were seized in Iraqi waters, and said it was freezing all “official bilateral business” with Iran except negotiations to release them.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that Seaman Turney would be released, and he suggested that the British vessels’ purported entry into Iranian waters may have been a mistake.

“This is a violation that just happened. It could be natural. They did not resist,” he told the AP.

“Today or tomorrow, the lady will be released,” Mr. Mottaki said yesterday on the sidelines of an Arab summit in the Saudi capital.

Later yesterday, Mr. Mottaki backed off his prediction on the female sailor.

Retreating from his statement that she would be freed by today, the foreign minister said Iran will look into releasing her “as soon as possible.”

Asked when she would be released, Mr. Mottaki said, “We will look into this as soon as possible.”

British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office said it had received no confirmation on the matter.

Mr. Mottaki also said Iran has agreed to allow British officials to meet with the detainees.

The British military said its vessels were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters when they were taken Friday, and it released what it said were the Global Positioning System satellite coordinates as proof.

Several hours later, Tehran broadcast the video on an Arabic-language satellite channel, along with a letter from Seaman Turney saying the sailors and marines were inside Iranian waters when they were captured.

“Obviously, we trespassed into their waters,” Seaman Turney said, sitting by herself against a floral curtain and smoking a cigarette.

“They were very friendly and very hospitable, very thoughtful, nice people. They explained to us why we’ve been arrested; there was no harm, no aggression,” she said.

Seaman Turney, 26, was also shown eating with several fellow sailors and marines.

What appeared to be a handwritten note from Seaman Turney to her family said, in part, “I have written a letter to the Iranian people to apologize for us entering their waters.”

The letter said Seaman Turney sent her love to her family and 3-year-old daughter.

“Please don’t worry about me,” the letter said. “I am staying strong. Hopefully it won’t be long until I am home to get ready for Molly’s birthday party with a present from the Iranian people.”

The video also showed a brief scene of what appeared to be the British crew sitting in an Iranian boat in open water immediately after their capture.

Before the video was broadcast, a Blair spokesman said any showing of British personnel on TV would be a breach of the Geneva Conventions. The chief spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) declined to comment, saying the ICRC was not involved.

“It’s completely unacceptable for these pictures to be shown on television,” the Foreign Office said after the broadcast. “There is no doubt our personnel were seized in Iraqi territorial waters.”

The statement also demanded that British diplomats be given immediate access to them as a “prelude” to their release.

The Foreign Office said it had “grave concerns” about Seaman Turney’s state of mind when she spoke on video.

“I am very concerned about these pictures and any indication of pressure on or coercion of our personnel,” said Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett. She added that Britain had “comprehensively demonstrated today that our personnel were operating inside Iraqi territorial waters.”

Mrs. Beckett also said Britain needs to focus all its efforts on resolving the issue.

“We will, therefore, be imposing a freeze on all other official bilateral business with Iran until the situation is resolved. We will keep other aspects of our policy towards Iran under close review and continue to proceed carefully. But no one should be in any doubt about the seriousness with which we regard these events,” she said.

Mr. Blair told the House of Commons that “there was no justification whatever for their detention, it was completely unacceptable, wrong and illegal.”

“We had hoped to see their immediate release; this has not happened. It is now time to ratchet up the diplomatic and international pressure in order to make sure the Iranian government understands its total isolation on this issue,” Mr. Blair said.

President Bush spoke to Mr. Blair over a secured video conference call about the standoff yesterday, White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said. “The president fully backs Tony Blair and our allies in Britain,” she said.

Iraq and Iran have never agreed on the ownership of waters near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, where Britain said the sailors and marines were seized. Fixing the dividing line is difficult because of conflicting claims to rock formations, sandbars and barrier islands in the shallow waters of the northern Persian Gulf.

Oil prices rose by more than $1 a barrel yesterday as the standoff continued.

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