Omid Memarian

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Release of British Sailors in the Presence of Journalists

The crises that erupted because 15 British sailors were detained by Iranian forces 13 days ago eventually ended with their release. The conclusion of the crises came through the orders of the Iranian president and one day after some sources had mentioned that the president had presented a new “initiative” in resolving the issue.

During the last 3 days of the crises, there were public signs that both sides were engaged in talks to peacefully free the British captives, while British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced on Tuesday that the next 24 hours were critical in resolving the issue. In his press conference announcing the decision to release the detainees, Ahmadinejad said that Britain had informed the Foreign Ministry that it would not repeat trespassing into Iranian territory.

The British sailors appeared before the cameras, wearing suits provided to them, after the president’s press conference. With the release of the detainees, the Iranian president once again appeared on the front pages of major international papers – the precise spot where he loves to be.
The display of the British sailors was for Ahmadinejad’s government was a display of victory and success because for the first time in his term a collection of his ministers and other senior Iranian officials were present with him during his press conference. At the end of the conference, he asked the journalists to stay for the ceremony to release the British sailors and report on the event. The sailors were handed over to the British diplomatic authorities in Tehran, and eventually left the country.

After Ahmadinejad’s recent failure to come to the UN, this episode was a blessing for him as the world was eager to watch him following Tony Blair’s ultimatum-like statement. His press conference was unusual in that this was the first time that military honors were presented to an officer in a press meeting. Normally such military awards are presented in special military ceremonies. So the event catapulted him to the front page of the New York Times. After awarding the naval commander Abolghasem Amangah who led the team that captured the British sailors in the Shat-al Arab waterway, Ahmadinejad said that the Brits were pardoned by the Islamic Republic and he expressed hope that the Britain would not punish the sailors on their arrival for “confessing” to their trespass into Iranian waters and speaking the “truth.”
Over the last few days there were those who believed that Iran’s seizure of the British sailors was a response to the five Iranians detained in Iraq in January, who according to US officials, are from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps even as Iran insists they are diplomats. The release of Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary of the Iranian embassy in Baghdad earlier this week added more suspicions to the release and possible deal behind-the-scenes. But officials on both sides denied reports of any deal and connection between the two events.

The Iranian Minister of Intelligence said, in a press conference on the British sailors, that no deal was made and that the two issues (Iranian detainees in Iraq and the British sailors in Iran) were not connected. He emphasized that the British sailors were released because Islamic clemency and a gift to the British people. He also denied any knowledge about an American who has been reported to be missing by US officials. The minister also denied knowledge of a French national who is report3ed to have been arrested in Tehran. He did confirm that Iran would do its utmost to free the detainees in Iraq, adding that the US had not done anything effective in this regard.
The release of the British sailors dropped prices in the international crude oil prices by about $1.5 per barrel, following its rise to over $65 per barrel earlier in the week.


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