Second British Sailor “Confesses” on Iranian TV

Iran’s televised broadcast of a second British sailor confessing to trespassing has further escalated the week-long crisis which began when Iran captured 15 British sailors and marines who had allegedly strayed into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf.

“We trespassed without permission,” said the sailor, who gave his name as Nathan Thomas Summers. “I would like to apologize for entering your waters without any permission … I deeply apologize.”

In the video, three soldiers in uniform – one a woman, also wearing a headscarf – talked in front a floral curtain. Iran has rescinded its offer to release the only female captive, Faye Turney, who also apologized on Iranian television on Wednesday; she appeared wearing the Muslim hijab and smoking a cigarette.

The Iranian embassy in London has also released two letters it says were written by Ms Turney. The second letter calls on Britain to withdraw its troops from Iraq. “Isn’t it time for us to start withdrawing our forces from Iraq and let them determine their own future?” asked the letter, which was addressed to the British parliament and faxed to Reuters from the Iranian embassy.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed dismay at the latest televised broadcast. “I really don’t know why the Iranian regime keeps doing this. All it does is enhance peoples’ disgust at captured personnel being paraded and manipulated in this way,” he said. “What the Iranians have to realize is that if they continue in this way they will face increasing isolation.”

On Thursday, the UN Security Council passed a resolution that expressed “grave concern” at Iran’s detention of the British soldiers called for their release. The resolution was supported by Belgium, France, Italy, Panama, Peru, Slovakia and the US. Britain will now press European Union foreign ministers to introduce economic sanctions against Iran.

The British government is also considering a letter, delivered by Iran’s Foreign Ministry to the British embassy in Tehran, which is apparently similar to a statement used to resolve the 2004 crisis when the Iranian government detained eight British soldiers for three days.

The letter states that Iran “… emphasizes the respect for the rules and principles of international law concerning the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, underlines the responsibility of the British government for the consequences of such violation, and calls for the guarantee to avoid the recurrence of such acts.”

Last Friday, Iran intercepted two small boats carrying 15 crewmembers of the HMS Cornwall who had been inspecting an Indian merchant ship in the Persian Gulf. The British and Iranian governments are locked in dispute over the exact location of the boats when the crew were seized. The British insist they were well within Iraqi waters, while Iran maintains they had strayed into Iranian territory. The crisis has dramatically escalated over the past week, especially since the televised ‘confessions’.

Meanwhile, US military officials announced on Thursday that they will end naval maneuvers involving two aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. President Bush said at the time of their deployment that their presence would reassure US allies of America’s commitment to security and stability in the Middle East. However, political and military analysts said the forceful display of US military might on Iran’s doorstep was designed to apply pressure on the Iranians at a time when they are accused of developing nuclear weapons and assisting the insurgency in Iraq.

Last month, Iran announced that it had successfully tested missiles that could “sink big warships” in the Gulf.

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told PBS’ NewsHour that he believes the Iranians have escalated the current crisis with the British captives in order to appear strong in standing up to the West while minimizing the potential for military conflict.

“In my opinion, this is much more an act of desperation rather than provocation,” he said. “Iran feels under siege. There’s US aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, Iranian officials being detained in Iraq, and the sanctions of the UN Security Council, and they want to show to the West that, if you want to escalate, we can reciprocate. And it’s a lot easier to act against the British without fear of repercussions.”


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