Britain releases evidence in Iran dispute

Here are all the ‘details’, as provided by the UK.

Britain releases evidence in Iran dispute | Special Reports | Guardian Unlimited Politics

Britain releases evidence in Iran dispute

Mark Oliver and agencies
Wednesday March 28, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

Vice Admiral Charles Style explains where the British sailors were seized by Iranian forces
Vice Admiral Charles Style with a map showing where the Royal Navy personnel were seized by Iranian forces. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/AP

Britain today released evidence it said proved 15 UK service personnel seized by Iran last week had been “well inside” Iraqi waters as Tehran said it would release the sole female captive.Vice Admiral Charles Style, presenting the information at the Ministry of Defence in London, said the Royal Navy personnel were “ambushed” by the Iranian navy while 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi territorial waters.

Speaking soon afterwards, Tony Blair said it was time to “ratchet up the international and diplomatic pressure” on Iran and demonstrate Tehran’s “total isolation” on the issue.

Mr Blair said the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, would make a statement on behalf of the EU later today in which she would make it clear that the situation was “completely unacceptable”.Soon afterwards, the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said the only woman among the 15 captives, 26-year-old Faye Turney, would be released soon.

“The woman soldier is free either today or tomorrow,” he told the Turkish CNN-Turk television channel.

In another development, the Iranian Arabic-language TV station al-Alam said it would broadcast footage of the captured personnel.

In a newsflash, it said the footage would be aired “later” but gave no further details, Reuters reported.

Vice Admiral Style, the deputy chief of the defence staff, said one of the two small British craft intercepted by the Iranian navy at gunpoint had a GPS (global positioning system) device on board.

Information from that device, along with further evidence from a British military helicopter, proved the sailors were operating “well inside” Iraqi waters when they were seized last Friday, he said.

The GPS relayed information back to HMS Cornwall, the ship the craft were operating from, meaning it was able to “continuously chart” their position.

The vice admiral said the Iranians had given two different positions for where they claimed the Royal Navy boarding party – seized after they had made a routine boarding of an Indian-flagged dhow suspected of being used to smuggle cars – had been.

He added that the location given by Iran on Saturday for the British personnel was inside Iraqi waters. After this was pointed out to Tehran, Iranian officials provided a second location, around two miles inside Iranian waters, on Monday.

The Ministry of Defence “unambiguously contested both locations” given by Iran, the vice admiral said. He told reporters that the detention of the British personnel was “unjustified and wrong”.

The personnel were on patrol in an area in the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which forms part of the border of Iran and Iraq.

Mr Mottaki dismissed the British version of events as “not true”, insisting the UK crew had been in Iranian waters. However, he took a conciliatory line, saying this could have been in error.

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

The situation has been further complicated by the fact that there has been a dispute over the border between the two countries for decades. However, Vice Admiral Style said the boarding of the dhow had taken place 7.5 nautical miles south-east of the al-Faw peninsula in Iran.

On Sunday, a Lynx helicopter operating from HMS Cornwall confirmed the position after flying over the dhow, whose position had not changed since Friday’s incident, according to its captain.

“The position was 29 degrees 50.36 minutes north, 048 degrees 43.08 minutes east. This places her 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi territorial waters,” Vice Admiral Style said.

After HMS Cornwall lost contact with the British personnel on Friday, a Lynx was dispatched to the area. By the time it arrived on the scene, the captured service personnel were already in Iranian waters, he said.

Today, Mr Blair, told the Commons the seizure of the personnel was “completely unacceptable, wrong and illegal”, saying Britain was in contact with its allies in the Middle East, Europe and Nato and the UN.

“Our thoughts are with our servicemen and the servicewoman and their families, and their safe return is our paramount concern,” he said.

David Cameron, the Conservative leader, said there could be “no excuse for Iran taking our royal naval personnel captive in Iraqi waters”.

The foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said Tehran had made it clear it was not linking the seizure of the personnel with any other diplomatic issues – the crisis comes as Iran faces increasing UN pressure over its nuclear programme.

She added that the UK had frozen all other official bilateral relations with Iran, and the government found it “impossible to believe, given the seriousness of the incident, that the Iranians could have made such a mistake with the original co-ordinates”.

Government officials have had to calculate the politics of releasing the details of the British position, with some fearing that doing so could push Iran into a diplomatic corner.

Mr Blair said he had spoken to the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who today told Turkish television that Turkish diplomats could be allowed to meet the British personnel.

British demands to be given consular access to the detained personnel have so far been denied. Mr Blair’s official spokesman said that although contact by Turkish diplomats was welcome, the UK continued to seek direct access as a “prelude” to the release of the personnel.

BBC News has reported that they are being held in Tehran, although this has not been confirmed.

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