As Iran releases British sailors, UK says diplomacy with Tehran works

Iran has released the five British sailors it detained last week after their racing yacht strayed into Iranian waters.

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Iranian authorities released on Wednesday the five British sailors who were detained last week when their racing yacht strayed into Iranian waters. The British Foreign Office confirmed that the sailors were being towed by the Iranian Navy into international waters before making their way to Dubai. The release is being hailed by British officials as a sign that diplomacy with Tehran can work.

According to CNN, the sailors' release follows a thorough investigation by Iranian authorities.

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The British Foreign Office confirmed the release of the five, who were detained by the Iranian navy on November 25 after going off course while traveling from Bahrain to Dubai. Iranian media also reported their release….
 
Iranian authorities said the men were released after it was determined their vessel -- the Kingdom of Bahrain -- had accidentally wandered into the country's waters, Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported.

The Telegraph reports that the five sailors would be met in international waters by a representative of Sail Bahrain – the group operating the yacht – who will tow them to Dubai.

According to The Independent, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband stated that Iranian authorities handled the matter as a consular, not political, issue.

 
Mr Miliband added: "As I said yesterday, this is a purely consular case. Obviously, there has been a real ordeal for the young men and for their families and I am really delighted that it is over for them and that we can call the matter closed."

He said the Iranian authorities had given "every indication" that they wanted to deal with the matter in a "straightforward, consular" way.

He added: "I think that this is just a straightforward matter. It is not a political matter. I do not believe there is any wider significance .. it shows that diplomacy can work."

According to the Guardian, the question of the sailors' release was tenuous, because Iran's maritime boundaries in the Persian Gulf are "not straightforward." Precise limits of Iran's jurisdiction have not been defined to the west of the United Arab Emirates. There could have been a dispute about the sailors' intent if they had strayed close to the island of Sirri, home to oil installations.

Writing in The Independent, Sir Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Iran, had cautioned that Iranian officials would "talk tough for their domestic audience," but opined that they could be reasoned with.

 
The Foreign Office must work around the unavoidable fact that the basic UK/Iranian relationship is in poor shape….
 
Encouragement to the Iranian authorities to see this case in the context of good-neighbourliness would be one approach. This time the Iranians are holding civilians engaged in a sporting event based on two friendly neighbouring countries, Dubai and Oman….
 
It would make the task of our Government harder if people in Britain jump to the conclusion that we already have either a repeat of the incidents in which our armed service personnel were involved in 2004 and 2007 or a plot to put pressure on the Government in other contexts.
The Independent reports that concern for the fate of the sailors' rose sharply yesterday after Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie, chief of staff for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told Iranian state media that the foreigners would face severe punishment if it was determined that "they had evil intentions."
 
The Independent reports that concern for the fate of the sailors' rose sharply yesterday after Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie, chief of staff for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told Iranian state media that the foreigners would face severe punishment if it was determined that "they had evil intentions."
 
[There] are very real fears that Iran, facing deep internal divisions since the disputed June elections and hugely suspicious of foreign intentions, will not hand over the British detainees quickly. Mr Ahmadinejad, who last night warned the world that it would regret any "aggression" over sanctions, may see the yacht incident as a matter from which he can extract some useful propaganda value domestically.

CNN adds that the UK and Iran experienced another maritime breach in 2007, when 15 Royal Navy personnel were detained by Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Before that, in 2004, eight British servicemen were apprehended by Iran during a training patrol.

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