Ahmadinejad Greets British Hostages After 'Pardoning' Them
July 7, 2008
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - At the very end of a lengthy and rambling speech on Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unexpectedly announced that he would pardon and set free 15 British sailors seized nearly two weeks ago.
Iran has insisted that the sailors violated its territorial waters, but Britain said the sailors, including one woman, were in international waters.
Ahmadinejad said that he hoped that British Prime Minister Tony Blair would not question or prosecute the sailors for "speaking the truth" that they had entered Iranian waters.
He also called on Blair to take steps toward peace and not to increase "occupation."
During the nearly hour-long speech, Ahmadinejad awarded medals to two commanders of the elite Revolutionary Guard naval detachment who were involved in the seizure of 15 British sailors on March 23.
He also recounted a long list of what he said were historical grievances Iran had with the West, including its support of Iraq during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and what he called the recent British violation of Iranian territorial waters.
Ahmadinejad sought the moral high ground, calling on people to follow the words of the Muslim prophets and asking why the British had sent a female sailor, who is a mother, to carry out such a dangerous mission.
The Iranian president acknowledged that Iran wouldn't get a formal apology and said that Britain was not brave enough to admit its error.
Less than an hour after the press conference, Ahmadinejad attended a ceremony at which the sailors, all dressed in gray suits, were seen from behind meeting the president and one by one shaking his hand and thanking him through a translator.
One was heard to say, "we're very grateful for your forgiveness," while others thanked Ahmadinejad and the Iranian people.
The images broadcast live on Iranian television showed a smiling Ahmadinejad. He told one sailor that he had released them in honor of the Muslim prophet Mohammed's birthday. He wished another one success.
Britain's Sky News commented that the sailors were "singing for their supper" but said there was nothing else they could do at a moment like that. Ahmadinejad, it said, was basking in his glory.
Maggie Smith, the sister of one of the sailors, said in a television interview that the family was very excited to hear that her brother is coming home, but they wanted to see him actually standing in front of them before they'll believe it's true.
Reuters reported that the sailors would be flown home only on Thursday.
In an initial reaction, the British government welcomed the news but said it did not have details yet on the release.
British Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt welcomed the news as a "huge relief." She said that she was not aware of what went on behind the scenes, but she believed it would "signal stronger dialogue" between Iran and the West.
Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett did not have an immediate comment on the release, but she said on Tuesday that there was "huge among going on behind the scenes." She also mentioned a number of meetings that were taking place between British and Iranian officials.
The White House welcomed the news of the release, spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Middle East expert Dr. Mordechai Kedar said that the Iranians must have agreed to release the sailors because they understood that they had no other choice in light of Blair's announcement that they had 48 hours to release the sailors before Britain would take other measures.
Some media reports this week suggested that the U.S. intended to mount an attack against Iranian nuclear facilities.
See Earlier Story:
Britons Split Over Military Action to Resolve Hostage Crisis (April 3, 2007)
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