Security Council Voices Concern Over Iran Captives

By Robin Wright and Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 30, 2007

Britain escalated international pressure Thursday in its week-old confrontation with Iran over the seizure of 15 naval personnel, winning from the U.N. Security Council a statement of "grave concern" over the capture.

But in five hours of intense debate at the council, Britain failed to get tough language it proposed that blamed Iran and demanded the immediate release of the 14 men and one woman. Russia balked at wording that the British had been seized in Iraqi waters while serving under a U.N. mandate. China, Qatar, Indonesia, Congo and South Africa also resisted blaming Iran, which contends the British trespassed into its waters, according to U.N. diplomats.

The softened version, which is nonbinding, instead appealed to Tehran to provide consular access to the sailors and marines, which has so far been denied, and an "early resolution of this problem."

A senior Iranian official said Britain's decision to internationalize the crisis would only delay resolution. Britain's move also "denigrates the United Nations to a cartographic agency," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing diplomacy. He noted that the United Nations had not conducted its own investigation into where the incident happened.

Iran's U.N. mission later issued a statement calling Britain's efforts to engage the world body "completely unacceptable, unwarranted and unjustifiable." The dispute "should be settled through bilateral channels," it said.

Other parties have begun to weigh in with Iran. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon met with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and discussed the British captives, while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to let a Turkish diplomat see them. Other European and Asian governments have called in Iranian diplomats to urge resolution, according to British officials.

After hopes Wednesday that the lone female captive, Leading Seaman Faye Turney, would be released, Tehran indicated Thursday that her freedom is now on hold. "It was announced that a woman in the group would be freed, but [that] was met with an incorrect attitude," Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani told Iranian state radio. He accused Britain of waging a "propaganda campaign."

In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Iran's decision to show Turney, 26, on television was a "disgrace" and "contrary to all international laws and conventions." In images that many Britons found offensive, Iran showed footage of several of the detained sailors and marines, including Turney making a statement that they had "apparently" been in Iranian waters when seized.

Late Thursday, the Iranian Embassy in London released a second handwritten letter purportedly from Turney, British media reported. It was addressed to the British House of Commons. It states that she and her fellow sailors had entered Iranian waters, and it lavishly praises her captors.

"Even through our wrongdoing, they have still treated us well and humanely, which I am and always will be eternally grateful," the letter stated. "I ask the representatives of the House of Commons, after the Government have promised that this type of incident would not happen again, why have they let this occur, and why has the Government not been questioned over this?"

It closes by mentioning the British military presence in Iraq, stating: "Isn't it time for us to start withdrawing our forces from Iraq and let them determine their own future?"

"We have not seen the letter but we have grave concerns about the circumstances in which it was prepared and issued," said a statement issued Thursday evening by Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett. "This blatant attempt to use Leading Seaman Turney for propaganda purposes is outrageous."

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