Iran re­leases de­tained U.S. Navy sailors

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

It turned out to be the in­ter­na­tional cri­sis that wasn’t.

Less than a day af­ter 10 U.S. Navy sailors were de­tained in Iran when their boats drifted into Ira­nian wa­ters, they and their ves­sels were back safely Wed­nes­day with the Amer­i­can fleet.

U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry tapped the per­sonal re­la­tion­ship he has formed with Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­hammed Javad Zarif in the three years of ne­go­ti­a­tions over Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram, speak­ing with him at least five times by tele­phone. Kerry cred­ited the quick res­o­lu­tion to the “crit­i­cal role diplo­macy plays in keep­ing our coun­try se­cure and strong.”

U.S. De­fence Sec­re­tary Ash Carter thanked Kerry af­ter the sailors’ re­lease and couched the in­ci­dent in hu­man­i­tar­ian terms, not­ing that “the U.S. Navy rou­tinely pro­vides as­sis­tance to for­eign sailors in dis­tress.”

For Tehran, the Amer­i­cans’ swift re­lease was a way to neu­tral­ize a po­ten­tial new flash­point days be­fore it was ex­pected to meet the terms of last sum­mer’s nu­clear deal, which will give Iran sig­nif­i­cant re­lief from painful eco­nomic sanc­tions.

It is likely that Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, who has the fi­nal say on all mat­ters of state, would have had to ap­prove the re­lease, given the im­mense political sen­si­tiv­i­ties.

But the rapid res­o­lu­tion also was a vic­tory for mod­er­ate Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani, who has pro­moted greater open­ness with the out­side world de­spite stri­dent op­po­si­tion from deeply en­trenched hard-lin­ers at home.

“Rouhani’s pol­icy of in­ter­ac­tion is work­ing,” said Ira­nian political an­a­lyst Saeed Leilaz. “Iran and the U.S. have gone a long way in re­duc­ing ten­sions but still have a long way to go in im­prov­ing their con­tacts. It was a big step for­ward.”

The nine men and one woman were de­tained Tues­day af­ter at least one of their boats suf­fered me­chan­i­cal prob­lems off of Farsi Is­land, an out­post in the middle of the Per­sian Gulf that has been used as a base for Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard speed­boats since the 1980s.

The Amer­i­cans’ small River­ine boats were sail­ing be­tween Kuwait and Bahrain on a train­ing mis­sion when the U.S. lost con­tact.

The sailors left the is­land at early Wed­nes­day aboard their boats, the Navy said. They were picked up by Navy air­craft, and other sailors took con­trol of the ves­sels for the re­turn voy­age to Bahrain, where the U.S. 5th Fleet is based.

Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, a 5th Fleet spokesman, said the pri­or­ity now would be de­ter­min­ing “how ex­actly th­ese sailors found them­selves in Iran.”

The Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard re­leased im­ages of the U.S. sailors be­fore their re­lease, show­ing them sit­ting on the floor of a room. They looked mostly bored or an­noyed, al­though one ap­peared to be smil­ing. The woman had her hair cov­ered by a brown cloth. The pic­tures also showed what ap­peared to be their two boats.

“Af­ter de­ter­min­ing that their en­try into Iran’s ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters was not in­ten­tional, and their apol­ogy, the de­tained Amer­i­can sailors were re­leased in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters,” the Guard said.

AP PHOTO

A still from video shows Amer­i­can Navy sailors de­tained Tues­day by the Ira­nian Revo­lu­tion­ary Guards in the Per­sian Gulf. The sailors were re­leased Wed­nes­day.

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