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Freed British crew begins leave; Iran calls for goodwill gesture

April 7th, 2007 9:48 pm by Associated Press



LONDON - Fifteen British sailors and marines freed from captivity in Tehran began two weeks' leave with their families Saturday, while Iran's ambassador to London urged Britain to help his nation mend relations with the international community.


Ambassador Rasoul Movahedian told the Financial Times newspaper in an article published Saturday that Iran had "showed our goodwill" by freeing the Britons.


"Now it is up to the British government to proceed in a positive way," he was quoted as saying. "We will welcome in general any steps that could defuse tensions in the region."


The British mariners, captured in the Persian Gulf on March 23, were freed Wednesday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called their release a gift to Britain.


Movahedian told the Financial Times that the release of the British crew was not connected to the fate of five Iranians held by U.S. forces in Iraq. U.S. officials said last week that Iran would be granted access to the detainees, but denied the decision was linked to the fate of British crew. Britain also has denied a link.


But Movahedian indicated help from the British on the matter would be appreciated.


"If they want to be helpful and use their influence we will welcome that. ... We will welcome in general any steps that could defuse tensions in the region," he said.


Movahedian called on Britain to use the resolution of the crisis as a chance to "establish sensible lines of communication with Iran."


He said the key issue for Iran was recognition from the West of its right to a nuclear power program.


"That's the prime issue for Iran and I think that could help set a new basis for our future relations with Western countries," he said.


The United States and allies, including Britain, fear Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program under cover of its civilian nuclear program. Iran denies this, insisting it seeks to use the program only for nuclear energy.


Britain's Foreign Office had no immediate comment on the Iranian ambassador's remarks.

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