- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

NEW YORK — The U.N. Security Council called yesterday for the release of 15 British sailors and marines being held by Iran, but watered down the call that would have expressed “grave concern” over Iran’s detention of the group.

Iran, angered at Britain’s decision to take the issue to the world body, withdrew a pledge to release the sole female sailor but later said it would consider a new appeal for her release from Turkey.

The two actions pointed to a worsening situation in the Gulf.

Today, however, Britain reported that its embassy in Tehran had received a “formal note” from the Iranian government. It declined to provide details about the message.

“We can confirm that … the Iranian government has sent a formal note to the British Embassy,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman told Agence France-Presse.

“Such exchanges are always confidential, so we cannot divulge any details. But we are giving the message serious consideration, and will soon respond formally to the Iranian government.”

Earlier, Britain had objected to the release of new videotape and a letter from one of the service members as the countries argued over whether they were in Iraqi or Iranian waters when they were seized last Friday.

Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, went to the Security Council seeking a presidential statement that would express “grave concern” at the apprehension of the naval personnel and demand their immediate release. The original language also would have said the Britons were in Iraqi waters when captured.

After objections, principally from Russia, the council issued a statement that made no mention of where the capture took place.

The statement expressed concern at the detention and called “for an early resolution of this problem, including the release of the 15 personnel.”

As the debate progressed in New York, Iran withdrew its promise to release Leading Seaman Faye Turney.

“It was announced that a woman in the group would be freed, but [this] was met with an incorrect attitude. Naturally, [the release] will be suspended and it will not take place,” Foreign Ministry official Ali Larijani said on Iranian television.

“Instead of sending a technical team to examine the problem, they kicked up a media storm, announced a freeze in [bilateral] relations and spoke about the Security Council. That will not resolve the problem. They have miscalculated,” Mr. Larijani said.

Iranian state television later quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying he will consider a Turkish request for the release of Seaman Turney. “He will give the necessary order to study Turkey’s request in a positive manner,” the television said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon discussed the navy personnel with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on the sidelines of the Arab League conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and said he hoped for “an early resolution” to the problem.

The escalating tension roiled world oil markets, pushing up prices by more than 3 percent to $66 a barrel.

Iranian television showed new footage yesterday of the British seamen, in seemingly good condition, eating a meal. Seaman Turney was shown wearing her uniform and a patterned black head scarf, a mandatory accessory for Iranian women.

In one segment, Seaman Turney, 26, was quoted as saying the crew had been plucked from Iranian waters. The British government said the statement was probably coerced, and feared that she has been under pressure from her Iranian minders.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the images a disgrace. “I just think it’s completely wrong, a disgrace actually, when people are used in that way,” he said, noting that it is against international convention to show detainees.

“The important thing is we just keep making it very, very clear to the Iranian government it is not a situation that will be relieved by anything but the unconditional release of all our people.”

British diplomats were infuriated by Iran’s release of a letter, purportedly written by Seaman Turney but in stilted English, that admitted the crew was apprehended in Iranian waters.

Calling the move blatant propaganda, London described the letter’s release as “outrageous and cruel.”

Britain is participating in the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq that was authorized by a November 2003 Security Council resolution. Under that resolution, allied ships are specifically mandated to patrol Iraqi waters to halt smuggling of oil and contraband.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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