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Iran releases British sailors

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    Iran announces release of British sailors 04 April 2007 http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article2420471.ece Iranian President Mahmoud
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 5, 2007
      Iran announces release of British sailors
      04 April 2007

      Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today announced his government
      would release the 15 detained British sailors and marines as an Easter
      gift to the British people.

      Ahmadinejad said the crew would be taken to Tehran airport for a
      flight out of Iran at the end of the press conference that he was
      addressing. But an Iranian diplomat in London said the 15 would be
      handed over to the British Embassy in Tehran.

      Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said it "welcomed" the move.
      Iranian state television said in a news flash that the 15 British
      sailors watched Ahmadinejad's press conference live and were ecstatic
      when a translator told them what the president had said.

      "On the occasion of the birthday of the great Prophet (Mohammed) ...
      and for the occasion of the passing of Christ, I say the Islamic
      Republic government and the Iranian people - with all powers and legal
      right to put the soldiers on trial - forgave those 15," Ahmadinejad
      said, referring to the Muslim prophet's birthday last Saturday and
      Easter, next Sunday.

      "This pardon is a gift to the British people," he said.

      Ahmadinejad also said the British government had "sent a letter to the
      Foreign Ministry pledging that it (entering Iranian waters) will not
      happen again." There was no immediate confirmation about the letter
      from London.

      Ahmadinejad asked Blair not to "punish" the crew for confessing that
      they had been in Iranian waters when they were seized by the Iranian
      coast guard. Iran broadcast videotapes of some of the crew giving
      confessions, infuriating Britain.

      Moments before announcing the crew's imminent release, Ahmadinejad
      praised the Iranian coast guard members who seized the British on
      March 23, and he pinned a medal of bravery on the chest of their
      commander, who came on stage with two members of his crew.

      "On behalf of the great Iranian people, I want to thank the Iranian
      coast guard who courageously defended and captured those who violated
      their territorial waters," Ahmadinejad said, vowing that Iran will
      "not accept trespassing on it's territorial waters."

      In London, a spokesman for Blair's office said, "We are looking at
      what has been said," but would not comment farther. He spoke on
      condition of anonymity, in line with government policy.

      The Iranian diplomat in London said the sailors would be handed over
      to British diplomats and that it would then be up to the Foreign
      Office to decide how they would return home.

      "They will go through some brief formalities and then they will go to
      the embassy," the diplomat said.

      "They can go on a British Airways flight to Heathrow, they can go
      through the UAE, it is up to the British Embassy in Tehran in
      co-ordination with the Foreign Office here."

      Aboard Air Force One, US President George Bush's national security
      spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said Bush "welcomes the news."

      The European Union, which said it stood "shoulder-to-shoulder" with
      London in the stand-off, also said it welcomed the news.

      "We are very pleased. We hope they are all well and can go home as
      soon as possible," said Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign
      policy chief Javier Solana.

      The release of the 15 would bring to an end a stand-off sparked when
      the crew was seized as it searched for smugglers off the Iraqi coast.
      Britain denied Iranian claims the crew had entered Iranian waters.

      Ahmadinejad said Iran was not seeking a "confrontation" when it
      intercepted the British, "but the deplorable conduct of the British
      government led to the prolonging of this incident."

      He criticised Britain for deploying Leading Seaman Faye Turney, one of
      the 15 detainees, in the Gulf, pointing out that she is a woman with a

      "How can you justify seeing a mother away from her home, her children?
      Why don't they respect family values in the West?" he asked of the
      British government.

      Ahmadinejad said there was no link between the sailors' release and
      the release in Baghdad on Monday of an Iranian diplomat who was seized
      by gunmen wearing Iraqi military uniforms in January.

      "If we had wanted to exchange Jalal Sharafi with the rest (the
      Britons) we would have exchanged him for 100,000. But we pardoned
      them," he said, adding the decision was "based on humanitarian

      Iranian state television today showed British sailors talking to
      Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the country's presidential
      palace, apparently minutes before they are to be freed.

      The footage showed Ahmadinejad shaking hands with the sailors and
      smiling and chatting.


      Oil Falls After Iran's President Says He Will Release Britons
      By Mark Shenk
      April 4, 2007

      April 4 (Bloomberg) -- Crude oil fell in New York after Iran's
      President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that he will release 15 seized
      Britons, easing concern of a conflict in the Persian Gulf.

      Prices surged to a seven-month high last week after Iran seized the
      sailors and marines in waters separating Iran and Iraq. The standoff
      has heightened tensions with Iran, which is under United Nations
      sanctions for its nuclear program. Prices pared losses after an Energy
      Department report showed that U.S. gasoline supplies plunged for an
      eighth week.

      ``There was at least $3 to $4 added to the price of oil as a result of
      the seizure,'' said Rick Mueller, an analyst with Energy Security
      Analysis Inc. in Tilburg, the Netherlands. ``This won't suddenly lead
      to a recovery of Iraqi production or OPEC increasing its output but it
      does reduce a lot of concern about the flow of oil through the Strait
      of Hormuz.''

      Crude oil for May delivery fell 26 cents, or 0.4 percent, to settle at
      $64.38 a barrel at 2:50 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
      Futures touched $68.09 a barrel on March 27, the highest since Sept.
      6. Prices are down 2.8 percent from a year ago.

      Almost a quarter of the world's oil flows through the Strait of
      Hormuz, a narrow waterway between Iran and Oman at the mouth of the
      Persian Gulf. Iran has the second-biggest proved oil reserves and is
      the second-biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting

      A Gift

      ``The great Iranian people and the Islamic republic, despite having
      the legal right to put these British sailors on trial, will pardon
      them,'' Ahmadinejad said. ``Their release will be given to the British
      population as a gift.''

      The Britons were still in Iranian hands and officials were determining
      the arrangements for their release, a spokesman for the British
      Embassy in Tehran said at 6 p.m. London time. Agence France-Presse
      cited an aide to Ahmadinejad as telling the state- run Mehr news
      agency that the handover of the detainees will take place tomorrow.

      ``Prices won't fall that much because demand is strong and inventories
      are tight,'' said Phil Flynn, a commodities trader for Chicago-based
      Alaron Trading. ``We haven't lost any oil from the Persian Gulf as a
      result of the tensions with Iran. OPEC has cut back production and
      this is leading to tighter inventories.''

      OPEC cut output 190,000 barrels a day to an average 29.88 million
      barrels a day in March, a Bloomberg News survey of oil companies,
      producers and analysts showed.

      Plunging Gasoline Stockpiles

      Gasoline stockpiles tumbled 5.03 million barrels to 205.2 million in
      the week ended March 30, the department reported. A drop of 150,000
      barrels was expected, according to the median of forecasts by 14
      analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. Supplies slipped 9.7 percent in
      the past eight weeks.

      Refineries operated at 87 percent of capacity last week, unchanged
      from the week before. Gasoline production fell 155,000 barrels to an
      average 8.77 million barrels a day, the report showed. U.S. refiners
      usually increase gasoline output at this time of year in preparation
      for the peak-demand summer months, when motorists take to the road for

      ``Refinery runs are terribly low for this time of year,'' said Michael
      Fitzpatrick, vice president for energy risk management at Fimat USA in
      New York. ``Refining is the chokepoint, which has been the case the
      last couple of years.''

      Crude-oil supplies surged 4.31 million barrels to 332.7 million
      barrels last week, the report showed. A gain of 500,000 barrels was
      expected, according to the Bloomberg survey.

      ``Crude oil is only down about 40 cents after supplies rose more than
      4 million barrels and Ahmadinejad made his speech releasing the
      British forces, which shows that there is still a lot of strength in
      the market,'' Fitzpatrick said.

      Gasoline for May delivery in New York jumped 8.77 cents, or 4.4
      percent, to $2.1054 a gallon, the biggest one-day gain since Jan. 30.
      Prices surged as high as $2.1143 a gallon on March 30, the highest
      intraday price since Aug. 10.

      Profit Margin

      The profit margin, or ``crack'' spread, for turning three barrels of
      crude oil into two barrels of gasoline and one of heating oil surged
      17 percent to $20.6728, the highest since March 20, based on closing
      futures prices in New York.

      The price of Brent crude oil from the North Sea has exceeded that of
      West Texas Intermediate, or WTI, crude oil, the U.S. benchmark, since
      Feb. 27. The West Texas grade is delivered to Cushing, Oklahoma.

      The closure of a Valero Energy Corp. refinery that's located near
      Oklahoma has contributed to the spread between the two oil grades.
      Valero said on March 28 that it won't be able to fully restore
      production this year at its fire-damaged McKee refinery near Sunray,
      Texas. The plant had a processing capacity of 170,000 barrels of oil a
      day before the Feb. 16 fire.

      Brent crude oil for May settlement rose 59 cents, or 0.9 percent, to
      close at $68.40 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures exchange.
      Futures touched $69.58 a barrel on April 2, the highest price since
      Sept. 1.

      To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Shenk in New York at
      mshenk1@... .


      Iran's President Retakes Spotlight
      Wednesday April 4, 2007

      With the announcement that 15 Britons were going free, Iran's hardline
      president retook his favorite spot on the international stage -
      delighting in Tehran's rising power and lecturing Western powers on
      their misdeeds.

      President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad kept an unusually low profile for most
      of the international standoff, prompting speculation that he had been
      sidelined by more pragmatic figures in Iran's government, whose
      ultimate authority is supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

      But if the declaration that the sailors and marines were being
      released after 13 days - with no public apology from the British - was
      a defeat for Ahmadinejad's usually confrontational approach, he wasn't
      showing it Wednesday.

      Instead, the former Tehran mayor beamed before the TV cameras as he
      greeted the sailors and marines at the presidential palace, accepting
      apologies for their purported intrusion into Iranian waters.

      Throughout his performance, Ahmadinejad seemed to revel in the world's
      attention, reaching out to key constituencies at home and abroad
      before springing the surprise announcement that the Britons would be

      At a two-hour press conference, he detailed decades of British and
      American interference in Iran and the region, a theme that resonates
      even among domestic reformists and moderates who have increasingly
      criticized his in-your-face foreign policy and management of Iran's
      struggling economy.

      The president also paid homage to Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the
      elite corps that is a bulwark of hardline power in the country and a
      pillar of support for Ahmadinejad, a former Guards commander.

      Perhaps trying to ease the sting of the Britons' release, Ahmadinejad
      pinned a medal to the chest of the Revolutionary Guards' commander
      whose men seized the Britons on March 23 in the northern Persian Gulf.
      Ahmadinejad said the British government had sent a letter to the
      Iranian Foreign Ministry pledging that entering Iranian waters ``will
      not happen again.''

      In a nod to social conservatives, Ahmadinejad told off Britain for
      sending sailor Faye Turney, who has a young daughter, to patrol the
      Persian Gulf, asking, ``Why don't they respect family values in the

      Then the president cast himself as a benevolent leader, stepping past
      the dispute between governments to offer the sailors freedom, he said,
      in the spirit of the Prophet Muhammad's birthday and the Easter season.

      ``This pardon is a gift to the British people,'' he said.


      Iranians release British sailors

      Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met the crew including Faye Turney
      Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says 15 British naval personnel
      captured in the Gulf are free to leave.

      He repeated Iran's view that the British sailors and marines "invaded"
      Iranian waters, but said they were being released as a "gift" to Britain.

      They are expected to be handed to the British embassy in Tehran on
      Thursday morning before flying home.

      British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the news would come as "a
      profound relief" to the crew and their families.

      Iranian media said the British crew members "shouted for joy" on
      hearing the news.

      The British embassy in Tehran said it had now seen the sailors for the
      first time, and it was arranging the details of their travel home. But
      it was not clear where they were spending the night.

      Earlier, television pictures showed the Iranian president smiling,
      chatting and shaking hands with the crew at the presidential palace in

      He joked to one: "How are you? So you came on a mandatory vacation?"

      The Britons were wearing suits, rather than the military uniform and
      tracksuits they wore in previous pictures. The one female crew member,
      Faye Turney, wore a blue headscarf and jacket.

      An unidentified crew member said: "I'd like to say that myself and my
      whole team are very grateful for your forgiveness. I'd like to thank
      yourself and the Iranian people... Thank you very much, sir."

      Mr Ahmadinejad responded in Farsi: "You are welcome."

      'Theatrical gesture'

      Mr Ahmadinejad announced the decision to release the Britons at a news
      conference In Tehran.
      The British government was not even brave enough to tell their people
      the truth

      He spoke at length, attacking the West over its policy in the Middle
      East, and it was more than an hour before he even mentioned the
      captives issue.

      He repeated allegations that the Britons were captured in Iranian
      waters, and awarded medals to the Iranian commanders responsible for
      detaining them.

      It was all part of the build up to his extraordinary theatrical
      gesture, says the BBC's diplomatic correspondent James Robbins.

      "We have every right to put these people on trial," Mr Ahmadinejad

      1 Crew boards merchant ship 1.7NM inside Iraqi waters
      2 HMS Cornwall was south-east of this, and inside Iraqi waters
      3 Iran tells UK that merchant ship was at a different point, still
      within Iraqi waters
      4 After UK points this out, Iran provides alternative position, now
      within Iranian waters

      "But I want to give them as a present to the British people to say
      they are all free."

      He said they were being pardoned to mark both the Prophet Muhammad's
      birthday on 30 March, and the upcoming Easter holiday.

      "I'm asking Mr Blair to not put these 15 personnel on trial because
      they admitted they came to Iranian territorial water," he added,
      referring to taped "confessions" made by the British sailors and marines.

      Britain says the 15 were in Iraqi waters under a UN mandate when they
      were captured nearly two weeks ago. It says the confessions were
      extracted under duress.

      "Unfortunately the British government was not even brave enough to
      tell their people the truth, that it made a mistake," Mr Ahmadinejad

      The Iranian leader said no concessions had been made by the British
      government to secure the releases, but that Britain had pledged "that
      the incident would not be repeated".

      'We respect Iran'

      Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain's approach to the crisis had
      been "firm but calm - not negotiating but not confronting either".

      He did not thank or address the Iranian president, but said to the
      Iranian people: "We bear you no ill will. On the contrary, we respect
      Iran as an ancient civilisation, as a nation with a proud and
      dignified history.

      "The disagreements we have with your government we wish to resolve
      peacefully through dialogue. I hope - as I've always hoped - that in
      the future we are able to do so."

      1 Royal Navy crew stray 0.5km inside Iranian waters
      2 Iran gives set of co-ordinates to back up their claims
      3 According to seized GPS equipment, the Royal Navy crew had
      previously entered Iranian waters at several other points
      4 Iran informs Britain of the position where the crew were seized,
      inside Iranian waters

      The solution to the crisis - freeing the Britons while rewarding the
      Iranian commanders of the operation - appears to be a face-saving
      compromise, says the BBC's Frances Harrison in Tehran.

      She says speculation is likely to continue over whether it had
      anything to do with developments in Iraq, where an Iranian envoy has
      reportedly been given access to five Iranians captured by US forces,
      and where a kidnapped diplomat was released on Tuesday.

      Earlier on Wednesday Syria revealed that it had been mediating between
      Iran and the UK over the sailors and marines.

      The family of one of the captives, Royal Marine Adam Sperry, hailed
      the announcement as "the best present imaginable".

      "Whoever has been in the right or wrong, the whole thing has been a
      political mess, so let's just get them home," said his uncle, Ray Cooper.


      Excerpts: Ahmadinejad announces release
      Wednesday, 4 April 2007

      Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced at a news conference
      in Tehran that the 15 British sailors and marines would be freed as a
      "gift to the British people". The following is a partial transcript
      from the news conference.

      "On the occasion of the birth anniversary of the great prophet of
      Islam, and on the occasion of Easter and Passover, I would like to
      announce that the great nation of Iran, while it is entitled to put
      the British military personnel on trial, has pardoned these 15 sailors
      and gives their release to the people of Britain as a gift.

      "I would like Mr Blair's government not to punish the sailors for
      acknowledging and telling the truth.

      "After this meeting they are free. They can go to the airport and they
      can go to their families.

      "I ask Mr Blair instead of occupying the other countries, I ask Mr
      Blair to think about the justice - to think about the truth and work
      for the British people not for himself."

      He said the British people should be told the truth about what the
      "British soldiers" were doing in Iranian waters.

      "Unfortunately, the British government not even was brave to tell
      their people - to tell them the truth - and tell them that [there] was
      a mistake. I'm sure the British people have every right to ask their
      government... what their soldiers were doing in Iraq or in Iranian
      water. I leave it to the British people to decide."

      Mr Ahmadinejad said the people of Iran were very upset at what he
      called the "invasion by the British sailors".

      And he praised the bravery of the Iranian commander who captured the

      "At this moment I wanted to say on behalf of the Iranian people - I
      wanted to thank the people who... arrested [them], I'm... admiring the
      commander who managed to capture these people who came to our water. I
      wanted to thank him for his braveness and I give him the third kind of

      The BBC's Frances Harrison asked him what prompted his change of heart.

      "I didn't change my decision suddenly. From the beginning, I didn't
      want to have any confrontation. We wanted our rights and we really
      didn't want to have any confrontation. The British government behaved
      badly and it took longer. "

      In response to another reporter's question, President Ahmadinejad said
      that no concessions had been made by the British government in order
      to secure the releases, but that the British government had assured
      Iran the incident would not be repeated.

      "Nothing specifically has been done by the United Kingdom. The UK
      government has sent a note, a memo, to the ministry of foreign affairs
      of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and in that letter they mentioned
      that incident would not be repeated. Of course, that decision that we
      are going to release the 15 British sailors is not related to that
      letter, and it was a present from the Iranian people to the British

      Our correspondent also asked President Ahmadinejad if he had any
      message for the 15 sailors and marines.

      "These personnel are the same as the other people... We respect them
      as human [beings] and the messages are what I said - we are a peaceful
      people, we want to have peace and security - we want peace and
      security for all people.

      "We are very upset that the British people... [went] to [war] and
      thousands of kilometres far away from their country, fighting
      somewhere which is not legal - we are upset about that."



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