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US Denies Pressuring Iran Backs Britain Over Detainees

Release of single sailor 'not good enough': Britain
London, - Britain said on Wednesday that Iran's pledge to release a British servicewoman it is holding within the next two days was "not good enough", and called once again for the release of all 15 naval personnel being detained by Tehran. "Obviously the release of one person, one of the military personnel and not the others, is not good enough," a British foreign ministry spokesman told AFP. "All personnel were in Iraqi waters carrying out their duties, under a UN Security Council resolution mandate at the request of the government of Iraq, and we expect them all to be released, and for the British government to have immediate consular access as a prelude to their release." Britain insists the 15, including 26-year-old Faye Turney whom Tehran is offering to release, were on a "routine" anti-smuggling operation inside Iraqi waters when they were seized at gunpoint in the northern Gulf. Tehran, which is already at odds with the West over its controversial nuclear programme, says they entered Iranian territorial waters illegally. The crisis prompted British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett to announce a freeze to all dealings with Iran apart from contacts to resolve the standoff that began on Friday with Iran's seizure of the 15 naval personnel in the Gulf. Iran drew fresh condemnation from Britain later Tuesday by parading some of the captive service personnel on state television. The sole woman among them, Turney, was shown admitting that she and her comrades had strayed into Iranian waters but the circumstances of the recording of the footage were unclear.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) March 28, 2007
The United States on Wednesday denied that its naval exercises in the Gulf are meant to pressure Iran, and stressed US support for Britain as Tehran holds 15 of its naval personnel. "These military exercises were long planned and so there is no escalation of tension on our part," spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon said the exercise was aimed at reassuring friends and allies, not raising tensions with Iran.

The US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, said two air wings from the aircraft carriers would conduct exercises while warships from the strike groups practice anti-submarine, anti-surface and mine warfare.

"We are not interested in confrontation in the Gulf," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

The second carrier raised the US naval presence in the Gulf to its highest level since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Two such naval formations are rarely deployed to the same area.

White House spokeswoman Perino reiterated US backing for Britain, one of the few remaining US allies in Iraq.

"Now, we do stand with our British allies and stand behind (Prime Minister) Tony Blair as he works to get these 15 soldiers back from the Iranians," she said.

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey concurred.

"The outcome that we need to see is for the British sailors to be released and released unconditionally," he said.

"We have had discussions with the British government about this and we stand by our British allies and certainly we want to do whatever we can to assist them," Casey said.

Britain announced a freeze on all official ties with Iran, saying its marines and sailors were in Iraqi waters, not in Iran's, as Tehran claims.

President George W. Bush ordered a second US carrier to the Gulf in January amid a mounting diplomatic confrontation with Iran over its uranium enrichment and Western suspicions that Tehran is bent on developing nuclear weapons.

Oil prices soared Wednesday in New York to their highest levels in six months on fears of a burgeoning military conflict.

Iran controls traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, the passageway to more than 40 percent of the world's energy, and has in the past boasted of its power to strangle the world's energy supply if pressured.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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