Iran shows video of British crew
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian state TV showed video Wednesday of 15 British sailors and marines who were seized last week, including a female captive in a white tunic and a black head scarf who said the British boats had “trespassed” in Iranian waters.
Britain called the broadcast “completely unacceptable” and said it was concerned that the statements from sailor Faye Turney were coerced. The British government earlier released what it called proof the boat crews were seized in Iraqi waters, and said it was freezing all contacts with Iran except negotiations to release them.
Iran’s foreign minister said Turney – the only female captive – would be freed on Wednesday or Thursday, but British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office said it had received no confirmation of that.
The British military said its vessels were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters when they were taken Friday, and it released what it said were the GPS coordinates that proved that.
Several hours later, Tehran broadcast the video on an Arabic-language satellite channel, along with a letter from Turney saying the sailors and marines were inside Iranian waters when they were captured.
“Obviously we trespassed into their waters,” Turney said, sitting by herself against a floral curtain and smoking a cigarette.
“They were very friendly and very hospitable, very thoughtful, nice people. They explained to us why we’ve been arrested, there was no harm, no aggression,” she said.
Turney, 26, was also shown eating with several fellow sailors and marines.
What appeared to be a handwritten note from Turney to her family said, in part, “I have written a letter to the Iranian people to apologize for us entering their waters.”
The video also showed a brief scene of what appeared to be the British crew sitting in an Iranian boat in open water immediately after their capture.
Before the video was broadcast, a Blair spokesman said any showing of British personnel on TV would be a breach of the Geneva Conventions.
“It’s completely unacceptable for these pictures to be shown on television,” the Foreign Office said after the broadcast. “There is no doubt our personnel were seized in Iraqi territorial waters.”
The statement also demanded that British diplomats be given immediate access to them as a “prelude” to their release.
The Foreign Office said it had “grave concerns” about Turney’s state of mind when she spoke on video.
“I am very concerned about these pictures and any indication of pressure on or coercion of our personnel,” said Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett. She added that Britain had “comprehensively demonstrated today that our personnel were operating inside Iraqi territorial waters.”
British officials declined to comment after the broadcast on whether it violated the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war. The chief spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross also declined to comment, saying the ICRC was not involved.
President Bush spoke to Blair over a secured video conference call about the standoff Wednesday, White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said. “The president fully backs Tony Blair and our allies in Britain,” she said.
Vice Adm. Charles Style told reporters that the Iranians had provided a position on Sunday – a location that he said was in Iraqi waters. By Tuesday, Iranian officials had given a revised position two miles east, placing the British inside Iranian waters – a claim he said was not verified by global positioning system coordinates.
“It is hard to understand a legitimate reason for this change of coordinates,” Style said.
Style gave the satellite coordinates of the British crew as 29 degrees 50.36 minutes north latitude and 048 degrees 43.08 minutes east longitude, and said it had been confirmed by an Indian-flagged merchant ship boarded by the sailors and marines.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki denied this, saying, “That’s not true. It happened in Iranian territorial waters.”
Iraq and Iran have never agreed on the ownership of waters near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, where Britain said the sailors and marines were seized. Fixing the dividing line is difficult because of conflicting claims to rock formations, sandbars and barrier islands in the shallow waters of the northern Gulf.
Mottaki told The Associated Press in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that Turney would be released Wednesday or Thursday, and he suggested that the British vessels’ alleged entry into Iranian waters may have been a mistake.
“This is a violation that just happened. It could be natural. They did not resist,” he told the AP.
“Today or tomorrow, the lady will be released,” Mottaki said Wednesday on the sidelines of an Arab summit in the Saudi capital.
The Iranian Embassy in London also said: “We are confident that Iranian and British governments are capable of resolving this security case through their close contacts and cooperation.”
In a first act of retribution against Iran, Beckett suspended bilateral talks with Tehran on all other issues. Visits by officials were stopped, issuing visas to Iranian officials suspended and British support for events such as trade missions put on hold, her office said.
Oil prices rose by more than $1 a barrel Wednesday as the standoff continued and on rumors that Iran had fired a missile at a U.S. ship in the Persian Gulf, where the U.S. is carrying out its largest sequence of military maneuvers since the launch of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In 2004, eight British sailors were captured as they were delivering a patrol boat to the Iraqi Riverine Patrol Service. Britain described the mission as “routine” but Tehran accused them entering Iranian waters illegally.
A day later, Iran said the sailors would be put on trial, and Iranian TV broadcast video of them blindfolded and sitting on the ground. Two of them later read a statement of apology for entering Iran’s territorial waters, saying it was a mistake.
The sailors later told reporters they had been mistreated and subjected to mock executions.
The eight were eventually returned to British diplomats in Tehran and flown back to Iraq. Iran initially promised to return the seized boats, but later decided to keep them for display at Tehran’s War Museum. The Iranians also kept the crew’s GPS equipment, and their coordinates have never been released.
Associated Press writers David Stringer and Raphael G. Satter contributed to this story from London.