Friday 22 February 2019

Captured UK sailor's 'plea' for soldiers to withdraw

Dominic Kennedy and Phillip Webster

IRAN twisted the knife in the hostage crisis last night, releasing a letter said to be from the captured Servicewoman Faye Turney in which she calls for British troops to be withdrawn from Iraq.

The letter, in which Tehran appeared to be using the hostages to try to dictate British foreign policy, was designed to heap humiliation on Tony Blair. Its release came minutes after the Prime Minister refused to be drawn into a "tit for tat" deal to secure the release of the 15. .

A livid Mr Blair denounced the letter, the second to be released by the Britons' captors. "It is cruel and callous to do this to somebody in this position," said the PM's spokesman.

According to a text of the letter, released by the Iranian Embassy in London, the 26-year-old mother wrote: "Isn't it time for us to start withdrawing our forces from Iraq and let them determine their own future?"

Iran had earlier reneged on its promise to release Turney and gone back on a pledge to let British diplomats visit the detainees, who have been held in secret locations since Friday. As the standoff deteriorated, Iran threatened to put the 15 on trial and claimed it had satellite evidence that they breached its borders six times.

The letter, dated Tuesday, was addressed to "representatives of the House of Commons". It said: "Unfortunately during the course of our mission we entered into Iranian waters.

"I ask the representatives of the House of Commons, after the government have promised that this type of incident would not happen again, why have they let this occur, and why has the government not been questioned over this?

A written and video confession by Leading Seaman Turney had previously been shown on Iranian TV, increasing concerns that she was being pressurised into making statements.

Mr Blair's efforts to unite world opinion on his side hit a hitch at the UN, where diplomats questioned whether the detained Britons had been in Iranian waters.

It was an unexpected affront to Mr Blair, who had told ITV News that he was stepping up the pressure on Iran, announcing: "The next step is the UN statement."~

Iranian TV last night imitated a UK Ministry of Defence briefing which launched Mr Blair's offensive. A Tehran military officer was shown in front of a map of the Gulf, holding up an electronic positioning device seized

from the Britons and pointing at numerous spots where he claimed they had trespassed. The promised homecoming of the lone female among the captured sailors was cancelled by Iran, whose leaders adopted a menacing new tone by threatening to put the party on trial. Iran appeared to be punishing Blair for a diplomatic and media offensive built around claims that Iranians deliberately lied when saying the Royal Navy had violated their waters.

At the UN, Russia, China, Qatar, Indonesia, and Congo (Brazzaville) all expressed reservations about the British initiative to demand the immediate release of the 15.

Britain raised the sailors' fate even though the ambassador, Sir Emyr Jones-Parry, had told the Security Council last week that it was a "bilateral issue."

British officials conceded that they faced an uphill stuggle in convincing the 15 council-members to sign up to a statement placing blame wholeheartedly on Iran. (© The Times, London)

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