- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 31, 2007

TEHRAN — A captive British marine was shown in new TV footage yesterday apologizing for being in Iranian waters, and Tehran made public a third letter supposedly written by the only woman prisoner among 15 Britons seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Britain sharply denounced Iran over the treatment of the captives — a sign both sides were hardening their stance as the crisis entered its second week.

Iran appeared intent on sending a message of strength as it faces mounting United Nations sanctions over its uranium enrichment program, which the United States and other nations suspect the Islamic republic is using to develop nuclear weapons.

Underlining Iran’s hard-line sentiment, some 60,000 soccer fans chanted “Death to Britain” at a match in Tehran, while 700 people rallying near Tehran University yelled “We condemn the British invasion.” A Muslim cleric told worshippers during Friday prayers that “Britain is an aggressor and Iran has confronted it.”

In the latest video broadcast by Iranian state television, Royal Marine rifleman Nathan Thomas Summers was pictured while sitting with another male captive, both in fatigues, and female British sailor Faye Turney in a blue jumpsuit and a black head scarf.

The three were among 15 British sailors and marines detained by Iranian naval units March 23 while patrolling for smugglers near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab, a waterway that has long been a disputed dividing line between Iraq and Iran.

“We trespassed without permission,” marine Summers said in the video shown on Iran’s Arabic-language channel Al-Alam. “I deeply apologize for entering your waters.”

The video, the second broadcast of the detainees in three days, drew indignation from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who accused Tehran of manipulating the prisoners.

“All it does is enhance people’s sense of disgust. Captured personnel being paraded and manipulated in this way doesn’t fool anyone,” Mr. Blair said. “What the Iranians have to realize is that if they continue in this way, they will face increasing isolation.”

It was not known whether the marine spoke under pressure from his captors, but marine Summers said in the broadcast that “our treatment has been very friendly.”

Iran also released a third letter supposedly written by the sole female detainee in which she says she has been “sacrificed” by Britain. Seaman Turney said she was sorry for straying into Iranian waters and asked whether it wasn’t time for Britain to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

“I am writing to you as a British serviceperson who has been sent to Iraq, sacrificed due to the intervening policies of the Bush and Blair governments,” the letter said, using even more stilted language than the previous letters.

The European Union warned Iran of undefined “appropriate measures” if the British naval team remained in captivity and called on Iran to inform the British government of the team members’ whereabouts and give British diplomats access — a British request that Iran so far has denied.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, condemned the warning, saying Europeans should not take a collective stance in support of Britain.

Meanwhile, Russia urged the United Nations yesterday to prepare an independent report on Iran’s seizure of the 15 sailors and marines, a day after the U.N. Security Council had expressed its “grave concern,” Agence France-Presse reported.

“The current situation demands an in-depth study into the incident, taking into account the conflicting accounts of London and Tehran, as well as the coordinates presented by both parties about where [the 15] were found,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“Given that Britain insists that its servicemen were fulfilling a U.N. Security Council mandate, we believe the Secretariat of the U.N. should prepare an independent report into the incident,” said Alexandre Yakovenko, the deputy Russian foreign minister, according to the statement.

The office of the Turkish prime minister, who is trying to mediate the dispute, said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had indicated his government was willing to reconsider freeing Seaman Turney, who is married and has a 3-year-old daughter.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki had suggested Wednesday that she would be freed soon, but the following day the semiofficial Iranian news agency Mehr said her release was canceled.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, who denounced yesterday’s video as “appalling,” said a letter Iran sent on the detention of the 15 sailors and marines would not help resolve the standoff.

“There is nothing in the letter to suggest that the Iranians are looking for a way out,” she told the British Broadcasting Corp.

The letter stopped short of asking for a formal apology. Instead it asked for Britain to acknowledge its naval team trespassed into Iranian waters and confirm it would not happen again.

The sailors and marines, part of a U.N.-mandated force patrolling the Persian Gulf, were seized while searching merchant ships for evidence of smuggling. Britain insists the team was in Iraqi waters and has said no admission of error would be made.

Iraqi officials have backed Britain’s account, saying again yesterday that the Royal Navy personnel were captured in Iraq’s territorial waters. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said his government was in contact with Iran to “ensure the wise handling of the case.”

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