London (AFP) Mar 26, 2007
American naval personnel would have defended themselves against Iranian forces, who seized 15 British sailors and marines last week, were they faced with a similar situation, a US commander said in an interview published Monday. Speaking to The Independent daily, Lieutenant-Commander Erik Horner, second-in-command on the USS Underwood in the Gulf, said the British personnel had "every right in my mind every justification to defend themselves."
The 14 men and one woman seized on Friday by Iran were all based on the British warship HMS Cornwall, part of a British-controlled task force to the south of Iraq, of which the Underwood is also a part.
Asked by the newspaper whether the men under his command would have fired shots at the Iranians, Horner said: "Agreed. Yes."
"I don't want to second-guess the British after the fact but our rules of engagement allow a little more latitude. Our boarding team's training is a little bit more towards self-preservation.
"The unique US Navy rules of engagement say we not only have a right to self-defence but also an obligation to self-defence. They had every right in my mind every justification to defend themselves rather than allow themselves to be taken.
"Our reaction was, 'Why didn't your guys defend themselves?'"
But a senior British defence source told The Sun on Saturday: "They (the sailors) did the right thing. They were heavily outnumbered and outgunned. There was no point in putting up a fight. No shots were exchanged and from what we understand so far, none of our people have been harmed."
British authorities said Sunday they did not know where the personnel were being held but that Iranian officials told them the group were all in good health.
The eight British Royal Navy sailors and seven Royal Marines were seized in the Gulf waterway that divides Iraq and Iran.
Britain says the group was conducting "routine" anti-smuggling operations in Iraqi waters, but Iran said Saturday the group had admitted to illegally entering Iranian waters.
earlier related report
Britain has demanded the immediate safe return of the 15 sailors and marines its says were seized in Iraqi territorial waters while conducting "routine" anti-smuggling operations.
But the Iranian foreign ministry angrily dismissed the British demands, insisting that the naval patrol was "suspect" and "illegal".
"Iran firmly condemns the illegal entry by British forces into the territorial waters of the Islamic republic which consitites a suspect action contrary to international rules," spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told the ISNA news agency.
Hosseini said London should "not be allowed to escape its reponsibilities on any pretext" after what he called a "violation of our sovereignty".
Iran summoned Britain's top diplomat in Tehran on Friday to protest what it said was the illegal entry of the British sailors into its waters.
"This makes a number of times that British sailors have illegally entered Iranian territorial waters at Arvand Roud," a foreign ministry statement, said using the Persian name for the Shatt al-Arab waterway that separates Iran from Iraq.
Britain in turn summoned the Iranian ambassador in London Friday for what Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett described as "brisk but polite" talks.
"We have sought a full explanation of what happened and we are leaving them in no doubt that we want the immediate and safe return of our personnel and their equipment," she said.
The British defence ministry said the 15 sailors and marines based on HMS Cornwall in the Gulf had finished inspecting a merchant ship when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian waters.
Although it is not the first time British sailors have been seized by Iran in the waterway, the incident came as the UN Security Council prepared to adopt new sanctions against Tehran over its controversial nuclear programme.
British newspapers expressed fears the sailors might be used as a bargaining chip in the mounting war of words between Tehran and Washington which has been spearheading the UN enforcement action.
The United States suspects Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of its civil programme -- something denied by Tehran -- and has not ruled out military action.
"There is now what looks like a hostage crisis," wrote The Guardian.
"These anti-smuggling patrols are relatively uncontentious, but they represent an opportunity for Iran to grasp.
"The source of a dispute matters less than the leverage Tehran thinks it can extract from it."
A senior defence source told the Sun tabloid that the sailors "did the right thing. They were heavily outnumbered and outgunned. There was no point in putting up a fight. No shots were exchanged and from what we understand so far, none of our people have been harmed."
In June 2004, eight British sailors and marines were detained for three days in Iran after being seized during another routine operation. They were paraded blindfold on television and forced to apologise for their "mistake."
On that occasion Iran insisted that the British boats -- which it has not yet returned -- were intercepted only after they entered Iranian waters on the Shatt al-Arab.
earlier related report
"The charge against them is illegal entry into Iranian territorial waters and the isuue is being considered legally," he told a press conference shortly after British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the seizure of the 15 "unjustified and wrong"
"Iranian authorities intercepted these sailors and marines in Iranian waters and detained them in Iranian waters. This has happened in the past as well," Mottaki said. "In terms of legal issue, it's under investigation."
He said his British counterpart Margaret Beckett had requested a telephone call with him, adding "this will probably happen some time this afternoon."
"They were in Iraqi water, it is not true that they went into Iranian territorial waters," Blair told reporters on the sidelines of EU 50th anniversary celebrations in Berlin. "The quicker it is resolved, the easier it is for all. But it is quite unjustified and wrong."
British authorities said they did not know where the personnel, who were seized on Friday, were being held, but Iran said the 14 men and one woman were all well.
The eight British Royal Navy sailors and seven Royal Marines, all based on the British warship HMS Cornwall, were seized in the Gulf waterway that divides Iraq and Iran.
Britain says the group was conducting "routine" anti-smuggling operations, but Iran said Saturday the group had admitted to illegally entering Iranian waters.
British press reports have speculated that the naval personnel could be used as bargaining chips in the mounting war of words between Tehran and the West or traded for Iranians captured in Iraq earlier this year.
Saturday, Mottaki addressed the UN Security Council after it unanimously slapped new sanctions on Iran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, which major powers suspect could hide a bid to develop nuclear weapons.
The Iranian minister Sunday again described the sanctions as "illegal and unjustified" and stressed that "all questions about Iran's nuclear program have been answered." Tehran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and says it has the right to conduct uranium enrichment as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
earlier related report
The British ambassador in Tehran again demanded the release of the eight Royal Navy sailors and seven Royal Marines but got no response, officials said.
The 14 men and one woman were seized on the Shatt al-Arab waterway that divides Iraq and Iran on Friday. Britain says they were conducting "routine" anti-smuggling operations. Iran said Saturday that the group has admitted illegally entering Iranian waters.
"We don't know where they are. We wish we did. We are asking whether they are being moved around inside Iran," Lord David Triesman, a Foreign Office junior minister, said in an interview with Sky News television.
The British ambassador to Tehran, Geoffrey Adams, met senior officials at the Iranian foreign ministry on Sunday to seek the freedom of the group, a Foreign Office spokesman in London told AFP.
Adams "pressed again for the release of our personnel, asked where they are being held and for consular access", he added.
Iran's foreign ministry provided no immediate response and further meetings were a possibility, he added.
Triesman again denied that the group from HMS Cornwall had deliberately entered Iranian territory.
"We've been very clear throughout that the British sailors don't intentionally enter into Iranian waters," he said. "There's no reason for them to do so. We don't intend to do so. and I think people should accept that there's good faith in that assertion."
On Saturday, the Germany presidency of the European Union called for their "immediate release" and said Germany's ambassador to Tehran had also spoken with the Iranian government about the matter.
Iran's ambassador to London has twice been summoned to the Foreign Office. On Friday he met a senior civil servant and Triesman on Saturday.
Triesman said Britain wanted the Iranians to reassure the group's families that they were in good health and unharmed.
The group's seizure comes three years after eight British Royal Navy personnel training their Iraqi counterparts on the same stretch of waterway were detained for three days by Iran.
They were blindfolded, paraded on Iranian television and apologised for their actions -- although Britain denied illegal encroachment -- before being released.
Triesman said that while negotiations were "very difficult and delicate", he was confident that there would be a "good outcome" to the latest incident.
But it comes amid a much different political situation, with Britain and Western governments at loggerheads with Iran over its disputed nuclear programme.
The United Nations Security Council on Saturday unanimously voted to impose new sanctions on Iran over its refusal to abandon uranium enrichment.
British newspapers have expressed fears the sailors might be used as a bargaining chip in the mounting war of words over the nuclear crisis. One speculated that the sailors detention looked like a "hostage crisis".
"The source of a dispute matters less than the leverage Tehran thinks it can extract from it," The Guardian said.
Iran has accused the British military of seeking to "create a climate of tension at a moment when a resolution on Iran is to be put to the vote, despite the fact that Iran seeks calm and stability in the region".
"The questioning of the British sailors is continuing to try to establish their real intentions," he added.
Triesman was asked Sunday about any possible links between the two events but played down the suggestion.
"We have been assured that's not the case. Our own view is that these things aren't linked," he said.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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