The release of eight British military servicemen held in Iran after they entered Iranian waters is likely to be delayed until today, Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam satellite television said yesterday.
"Taking decisions on releasing the detained [British] troops is likely to be delayed to Thursday [today] as there is not enough time, because the delegation will arrive late tonight [last night] to the region," the channel said quoting one of its correspondents.
A delegation of British diplomats has already arrived in the area.
The report also said the three British boats and the equipment in them would stay in Iranian naval custody.
British diplomats landed in Khuzestan in southwest Iran for the handover yesterday and were headed to Bandar Mahshahr, a petrochemical center.
"We have just landed in Ahvaz," a diplomat said yesterday, speaking from the provincial capital of Khuzestan, the oil-rich province on the Iraqi border. They were arriving from the Iranian capital Tehran.
The Iranian press was yesterday unanimous in predicting that the arrest of the naval unit by the Islamic republic's hardline Revolutionary Guards would herald a new crisis in ties with London.
Some right-wing papers even said they saw the infringement of Iranian territorial waters on the border with Iraq as yet more evidence pointing to an international "conspiracy" against the 25-year-old clerical regime.
"Chill between Tehran and London," the reformist Ashti paper headlined, while the moderate Toseh daily declared a new "crisis" at a time when ties have already come under strain over Iran's suspected nuclear program.
The reformist Etemad newspaper claimed the "aggression" against Iran by the three boats and their eight crewmen was aimed at "pushing Iran to extremism," recalling the US response to Iranian attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
The second objective, the paper claimed, was to "deprive Iran of any role and influence in Iraq, in particular during the handover of sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30."
"The British in another Persian Gulf conspiracy," trumpeted the hardline Jomhuri Islami paper, a daily that frequently points out what it calls the constant menace posed by the Americans, British and Israelis.
"The seizure of the three boats and the arrest of eight British soldiers has shed full light on the nasty objectives of the British and the other occupation forces in Iraq," it said.
"The British want us to believe that the three boats entered Iranian waters by mistake, but the arms and maps in their possession showed perfectly well that they were on a mission."
The paper also drew a clear link with Britain's co-sponsorship of a resolution passed by the International Atomic Energy Agency last Friday that strongly condemned Iran for failing to fully cooperate with UN nuclear inspectors.
"If we take into account the role the British had in drawing up this resolution ... it is clear that Britain wants to shift the crisis from Iraq to Iran," it reasoned.
The Shargh newspaper, however, took a more moderate line and said Iran and Britain could simply not afford a fresh crisis in relations.
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