Iran may take action against Britons
Tehran, December 1, 2009
Iran will take serious measures against five British yachtsmen detained in the Gulf if it proves they had "evil intentions", a close aide to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday.
Relations between Britain and Iran have been dogged by tension in recent years over a range of issues, from Tehran's nuclear programme to Iranian allegations of British involvement in post-election violence in June this year.
Oil prices rose by more than $1 on fears of a diplomatic crisis after news of the detainment was made public on Monday.
"The judiciary will decide about the five ... naturally our measures will be hard and serious if we find out they had evil intentions," Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie, the president's chief of staff, told the semi-official Fars news agency.
Britain stressed the five men were civilians and played down parallels with a 2007 incident when Iran seized eight British Royal Navy sailors and seven marines off its coast.
"There is certainly no question of any malicious intent on the part of these five young people," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told BBC television. "This is a human story of five young yachtsmen. It's got nothing to do with politics, it's got nothing to do with nuclear enrichment programmes."
He said he expected Iran's Foreign Ministry to make a statement later in the day "which I hope will help shed some light on where the men are and what the prospects are for them to be released very quickly."
Hardline Iranian students will gather outside the British embassy in Tehran on Wednesday to protest "the Britons' illegal entry" into Iranian waters, the ISNA news agency reported.
Britain is often singled out for suspicion in the minds of many Iranians due to its role as a colonial ruler.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Britain "the most treacherous" of Iran's enemies after Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned Tehran's violent suppression of protests that followed the disputed June presidential election.
Iran's reformist opposition is planning to hijack an official demonstration on Monday to keep up pressure on the hardline establishment. For Iran, the timing of capture of the sailors, may be fortuitous.
"They are so convinced that the British are orchestrating all the problems within Iran ... this will be just the sort of thing to keep the British press and the embassy in Tehran occupied," said Ali Ansari of Scotland's St. Andrews University.
"What it will do is detract attention, Miliband has to be very nice and gentle," Ansari said. "My feeling is they will keep the tension up until Monday has passed and then gradually it'll start to ease, then they will probably release them."
Iran's Revolutionary Guards confirmed on Tuesday their naval forces had detained five Britons in the Gulf.
A new US intelligence study says Iran has restructured its naval forces to give an arm of the elite Revolutionary Guards full responsibility for operations in the Gulf.
Miliband said the sailors may have "inadvertently strayed" into Iranian waters. Britain said their yacht was stopped by Iranian naval vessels on November 25.
Organisers of a race in which the yachtsmen were planning to take part said the vessel had reported problems with a propeller en route from Bahrain to Dubai in the Gulf. - Reuters