Sun, Apr 01, 2007 - Page 6 News List

EU demands Iran release sailors

`APPROPRIATE MEASURES' European foreign ministers said in a statement that the union would take unspecified action if Tehran did not release 15 UK forces

AP , BREMEN, GERMANY

The EU has demanded that Iran immediately and unconditionally release 15 British sailors and marines and warned of undefined "appropriate measures" if Tehran does not comply.

A statement from EU foreign ministers in Bremen, Germany, on Friday backed British Prime Minister Tony Blair's statements that the naval personnel were not in Iranian waters when they were seized a week ago after they searched a civilian vessel.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, said he would be in contact the Iranian leadership "in the coming days, in the coming hours" over the issue.

He said he had already talked to Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and would try to contact President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"The leaders of Iran have to understand this is not a bilateral issue" between them and Britain, Solana said.

The ministers also issued a statement calling on Iran to "immediately inform" the British government about the whereabouts of the captives and give British diplomats access to them -- a British request that Iran so far has denied.

The EU statement said that "all evidence clearly indicates that at the time of the seizure, the British naval personnel were on a routine patrolling mission in Iraqi waters" in accordance with a UN mandate.

The seizure, the statement said, "therefore constitutes a clear breach of international law."

"The European Union repeats its call for the immediate and unconditional release of the British Royal Naval personnel," it said.

If the British sailors are not released, the 27-member EU "will decide on appropriate measures," the statement said.

Catherine Colonna, the French European affairs minister, said "the message to Iran is clear. Today we have given proof of our solidarity with Great Britain."

The crisis over the seizure of the sailors comes at a time when Iran's relations with the international community are strained over Tehran's nuclear enrichment program, although EU diplomats were loath to connect the two issues.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said that a letter from Iran on the detention of the sailors and marines had done nothing to bring the standoff closer to a resolution.

"There is nothing in the letter to suggest that the Iranians are looking for a way out," Beckett said in a BBC interview, in which she also accused Tehran of using the detained British service members for "blatant propaganda" purposes.

"It is quite appalling and it is completely contrary to normal international convention to use people who are detained against their will, who have been detained for days now, to whom consular access is denied ... to use them for blatant propaganda in this way. I am quite horrified," Beckett said.

Images of the crew have been broadcast on Iranian television, and Iran has released three letters purportedly written by the only woman among the 15 personnel.

Despite the strong words in the statement, some European diplomats warned against unnecessarily blocking normal relations with Iran and thereby escalating the dispute.

"We must put very strong pressure on the Iranians," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top