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Released U.K. sailors to leave Iran Thursday - Iranian TV

RIA Novosti

04/04/2007 19:37 TEHRAN, April 4 (RIA Novosti) - The 15 British sailors released after being held in custody in Iran for nearly two weeks will fly out of Iran at 4:30 a.m. GMT Thursday, Iran's IRNA news agency said Wednesday.

The U.K. sailors and marines were officially freed following Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's news conference Wednesday, during which he called the release "a gift" to the British people.

Iran detained the Royal Navy personnel March 23, citing repeated violations of its maritime border with Iraq. Britain has insisted the servicemen were in Iraqi waters under a UN mandate to search shipping in the Gulf. The sides began negotiations Tuesday.

Ahmadinejad accused British authorities of withholding the actual facts of the case. "The British government does not even have the courage to admit that its military violated Iran's border," Ahmadinejad said.

The Iranian president said the release was not the result of a deal between Tehran and the U.S. and Britain.

"The release of the British sailors was... a gift from the Iranian nation to the British nation," he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Ahmadinejad decorated the head of the Coast Guard who led the operation to detain the sailors.

"I would like to thank Iran's border service for their courageous defense of Iran's territorial waters," Ahmadinejad said.

During the press conference, the Iranian president also sharply criticized the UN Security Council, which, he said, "was unable to halt the occupation of Iraq or crimes committed in Palestine."

He said the Security Council should be reformed, as "no country can complain of U.S. and U.K. actions to the UN Security Council."

Ahmadinejad said the British government has promised never again to violate Iran's territorial waters.

"Nothing special happened. The British government sent a note to Iran's Foreign Ministry in which it indicated that such actions [Iranian border violation by British military] will not be repeated," he told journalists.

The Iranian president said his country wants to have egalitarian and friendly relations with the U.S.

"We want to have friendly relations with all states, especially with America," he said, adding that relations with the U.S. were derailed when Washington tried to impose its conditions on Tehran.

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