Iran dissidents: British capture ordered
By DAVID STRINGER, Associated Press WriterSat Mar 31, 1:16 PM ET
An Iranian opposition group claimed Saturday that Iran’s capture of
15 British sailors and marines was planned in advance and carried out
in retaliation for the U.N. sanctions imposed against the country, as
an Iranian diplomat said the case had entered a legal phase.
Gholam-Reza Ansari, the Iranian ambassador to Russia, made his
comments to Russian television Vesti-24 on Friday and was quoted by
IRNA on its Web site as saying, “the case of the detention of British
sailors has taken on a judicial form.”
IRNA originally quoted the ambassador Saturday morning as saying the
sailors could be “tried if there is enough evidence of guilt.” But the
agency published a correction later claiming Ansari’s comments were
incorrectly translated by Russian television. The Russian TV station
could not immediately be reached for comment.
Asked about Ansari’s remarks earlier Saturday before IRNA reported
that he was misquoted, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett urged
Iran to resolve the crisis peacefully.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran — the political wing of
the Iranian MEK opposition group which is listed as a terrorist group
by Britain, the U.S. and the European Union — said the British crew’s
capture was planned in advance, but offered no evidence to support the
The British sailors were detained by Iranian naval units March 23
while patrolling for smugglers near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab, a
waterway that has long been a disputed dividing line between Iraq and
Iran. Iran claims the Britons were in its territory; Britain and the
Iraqi government say they were taken captive in Iraqi waters.
Iran appears intent on sending a message of strength as it faces
mounting U.N. Nations sanctions over its uranium enrichment program,
which the U.S. and other nations suspect the Islamic Republic is using
to develop nuclear weapons.
Hossein Abedini, a member of the opposition group’s foreign affairs
committee, claimed the group had obtained information from sources
within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard and had passed details to the
British government. He did not provide any evidence or give further
Britain’s Foreign Office said it could not comment on Abedini’s
allegation, or say if it had evidence the operation was pre-planned. A
spokeswoman said the MEK was a banned organization under British
anti-terrorism laws — meaning the government had no dealings with the
Abedini told a London press conference that an Iranian Revolutionary
Guard naval garrison had been on alert from the night before the
kidnapping, to prepare for the operation.
Mohammad Mohaddessin, who handles foreign affairs for the council,
said in a statement that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
had ordered the detention of the Britons in the hope of pressuring the
British government over a threat to toughen U.N. sanctions.
“You can see that the clerical regime had in a premeditated act
arrested British sailors in order to win concessions from the
international community and divert attention from its nuclear project,”
Abedini said. “Claims that the sailors were arrested in Iranian
territorial waters are baseless.”
Britain’s Foreign Office reiterated that the personnel “were in
Iraqi waters and we continue to request immediate consular access to
them and their immediate release.”
Britain has frozen most contacts with Iran and referred the issue to
the U.N. Security Council, which expressed “grave concern” on Thursday
over Iran’s seizure last week of the Britons.
Former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami told reporters on Saturday
that he hopes the current standoff will be resolved peacefully “instead
of facing a new disaster not only for Iranian-British relations, but
for Iran internationally.”
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