Iran announces UK sailors' release

British ambassador allowed to visit the 15 soldiers after Tehran "pardons" them.

    One of the navy personnel told Ahmadinejad, right, that he was "grateful for your forgiveness" [Reuters]

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    Iranian state media also said five Iranian officials captured by US forces in northern Iraq in January and accused of seeking to stir trouble were expected to receive their first visit by an Iranian diplomat soon.
     
    Iran's official news agency said the British crew was to fly out of Iran at 8am on Thursday but had not been handed over to the British embassy in Tehran by Wednesday night.
     
    The embassy said it was not clear where they would spend the night. The Britons were seized on March 23 as it searched for smugglers.
     
    The 15 British soldiers who have been held for 13 days were interviewed on Iranian television apologising for an apparent incursion into Iran's waters and thanking Ahmadinejad for their freedom.
     
    British response
     
    Tony Blair, the British prime minister, welcomed the decision to free them and thanked allies in Europe, the UN Security Council and the Middle East for their help.
     
    He said London's measured response to the crisis had been effective.
     
    "Throughout we have taken a measured approach, firm but calm, not negotiating but not confronting either."  
     
    Timeline

    How the diplomatic standoff unfolded

    The decision to release the detainees came after Iran had earlier acknowledged a "change of tone" from Britain following talks between Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and Nigel Sheinwald, Blair's chief foreign policy advisor, late on Tuesday.
     
    Iran had insisted that they key to resolving the crisis was an admission from Britain that the sailors and marines did intrude into Iranian territorial waters when they were seized on March 23.
     
    Britain maintains the group was carrying out routine anti-smuggling operations in Iraqi waters in line with a UN mandate, but Iran says the sailors' Global Positioning System (GPS) devices show they intruded into Iranian waters.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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