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Iran Questions EU's 'Illogical' Support For Britain Over Sailors

April 1, 2007 -- Iran is responding to criticism from European Union officials about 15 British sailors and marines Iran says it detained in Iranian waters.

EU officials publicly sided with Britain's version that the sailors were in Iraqi waters when Iran detained them. Iran is telling the EU the matter is purely between Tehran and London and warning the EU to avoid making "baseless statements."

Iran continues to reject claims it illegally seized the sailors, insisting they illegally entered Iranian waters.

An estimated 100 to 200 student members of the Basij militia, a force affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, protested outside the British Embassy in Tehran today, demanding that Britain apologize.

EU Support

European Union officials criticized Iran and expressed solidarity with Britain in its efforts to obtain the release of its naval personnel from Iran. Speaking at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on March 30, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier voiced this European solidarity for Britain.

Great Britain can count on the tight and unconditional support of all Europeans," Steinmeier said. "We expressed this also toward our British colleague. And we advised them to seek consultations with Tehran, which I discussed with [EU foreign-policy chief] Javier Solana, in order to find a fast solution."

Britain says its evidence shows the British sailors were in Iraqi waters on March 23 when Iranian warships surrounded their boats. Since then Iranian television has aired footage of one of the 15 British sailors apologizing for the ship entering Iranian waters.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini appeared on television March 31, telling the European Union they had the facts wrong and that anyway the EU had no place in the dispute, which is just between Tehran and London.

"We suggest that European officials and EU officials that they pay attention to evidence and existing documents before illogically supporting the British government," Hosseini said. "It [the foreign ministry] also warned the European Union to avoid issuing baseless statements and interfering in an issue, which is a bilateral issue between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the British government and asked them to encourage the British government to find bilateral solutions to solve the issue. It also asked them to avoid [taking] any actions that would cause the issue to become more complicated and take a longer time [to be resolved]."

Iranian officials have made conflicting statements about whether the British sailors would face charges or not. The detention of the British sailors has brought back memories of U.S. Embassy personnel that were held for 444 days after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

'Inexcusable Behavior'

Speaking at Camp David on March 31, U.S. President George Bush called on Iran to unconditionally release the wrongfully detained British sailors.

"The Iranians must give back the hostages," Bush said. "They're innocent, they did nothing wrong, and they were summarily plucked out of water. As I say, it's inexcusable behavior. The United States is already in a disagreement with Iran over Tehran's nuclear-development program. Governments in the two countries regularly trade criticisms and accusations.

Iran's state news agency IRNA today quoted President Ahmadinejad as promising fresh news soon on its disputed nuclear program.

As for the British sailors, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said today on state television that "Iran is waiting for a change of behavior by Britain and a balanced stance by this country over our legal demands."

Mottaki did not specify what a change of behavior meant, but on March 31 Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad called Britain "arrogant" and said he expected an official apology from London.

British Defense Secretary Des Browne told BBC Television today that Britain wants to have the matter resolved by diplomatic means as quickly as possible.

He said Britain is in "direct bilateral communication" with Iran as it tries to win the release of the sailors and marines, although he declined to disclose the kind of communication.

(Reuters, AFP)

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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