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U.K. intrusion was a test of Iran's defenses - Iranian official

RIA Novosti

05/04/2007 17:44 TEHRAN, April 5 (RIA Novosti) - The U.K.'s intrusion into Iran's territorial waters was an attempt by the West to test the republic's defense capabilities, a senior aide to Iran's supreme leader said Thursday.

Iran detained 15 British Navy personnel in the Gulf March 23 for allegedly violating its maritime border with Iraq. Britain has insisted the servicemen were in Iraqi waters under a UN mandate, and were returning in dinghies to HMS Cornwall after patrolling oil platforms.

"By trespassing into our country's territorial waters, the occupation forces in Iraq sought, among other things, to test Iran. But considering Iran's political and military wisdom, they met with a firm rebuff," said Ali Akbar Velayati, international affairs advisor to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

He said that Iran, like the Islamic world as a whole, "is not afraid of Western power."

"Muslims must know that they can stand up to the strongest enemies of Islam," he said.

The 15 British Navy personnel, released by Iranian authorities Wednesday after almost two weeks in custody, returned to the United Kingdom Thursday.

The freed sailors and marines arrived at Heathrow airport on a British Airways flight at 12:03 p.m. local time (11:03 a.m. GMT). They were then transferred to two military helicopters to fly to the Chivenor military base in Devon, 200 miles southwest of London, for a private meeting with their families.

Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, announced the release of the 15 Royal Navy personnel in a surprise move late Wednesday, following a diplomatic standoff that his country and Britain had been engaged in since the crew's detention in the Persian Gulf March 23.

Ahmadinejad announced the Britons' release after just two days of talks, saying it was not the result of a deal, but that they had been pardoned by the Iranian leadership as a gesture of good will.

In return for the release, the British Foreign Ministry said it would soon consider lifting restrictions imposed on Iran following the incident.

The crisis pushed up oil prices and raised fears of a military conflict in the volatile region, as speculation grew of an impending strike by the U.S. on Iran in April.

The U.S. administration has repeatedly accused Tehran of interfering in Iraq's internal affairs by providing weapons and extremist training to the country's Shiite factions. It also suspects the Islamic Republic of covertly developing nuclear weapons.

In January U.S. servicemen detained five Iranian officials in Erbil, in Kurdistan, confiscating computers and documents without providing any explanation.

Shortly before the release of the British sailors, IRNA reported that Iranian diplomats would be allowed to meet the five Iranians detained by the U.S.

Another Iranian diplomat, seized separately in February in Baghdad, was released and returned to Iran Tuesday. Iran accused the U.S. of abducting him, a charge the U.S. denied.

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