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Security Council Expresses 'Grave Concern' At British Sailors' Capture


The U.N. Security Council has adopted a bland statement expressing "grave concern" at Iran's detention of 15 British sailors. From U.N. headquarters, VOA's Peter Heinlein reports the statement was far weaker than the text Britain had originally asked for.

British diplomats went to the Security Council Thursday asking for adoption of a three-sentence statement. It would have deplored the detention of British naval personnel, called for their immediate release, and noted that the British personnel were operating in Iraqi waters.

But after a four-hour closed door Council debate, they came away with far less. In the face of what diplomats said were objections from several members, including Russia, all three elements of the British text were either watered down (weakened) or deleted.

The strong language "deploring" the detention was replaced by an expression of "grave concern". The call for the "immediate release" was softened by dropping the word "immediate", and the mention of "Iraqi waters" was deleted altogether.

The resulting statement was read to reporters by the Council president for March, South Africa's Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo. "Members of the Security Council express grave concern at the capture by the Revolutionary Guard and the continuing detention by the government of Iran of 15 United Kingdom naval personnel, and appeal to the government of Iran to allow consular access in terms of the relevant international laws. Members of the Security Council support calls for an early resolution of this problem, including the release of the 15 U.K. personnel," he said.

Despite the weakened language of the text, Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry expressed satisfaction with the outcome. He rejected a reporter's suggestion the text represented a diplomatic failure.

"Colleagues had a number of concerns. I think they've been dealt with, and we've come to a conclusion that we've all accepted, and I hope that this will be the right message to send to the government, that firstly we get immediate consular access, which is what Britain is asking for, and that secondly, that we get prompt release," he said.

Washington's deputy U.N. Ambassador Jackie Sanders came out of the Council chamber at one point describing the debate as "not the best day from the United States perspective, or from the Security Council perspective. But Council president Kumalo argued that the final text was good because it had stuck strictly to the facts. "This statement is based on absolute fact. There is no political twisting of anything that happened," he said.

Britain says global satellite positioning information shows that its sailors were in Iraqi waters when they were captured last Friday. Ambassador Jones-Parry told reporters at the Security Council that Iran had changed the global positionining systems coordinates to make it appear that the British vessel was in Iranian waters.

Iran's seizure of the 15 British navy personnel coincided with the Security Council's adoption of a resolution toughening sanctions against Tehran for its suspect nuclear program. Britain, France, and Germany were the main sponsors of that resolution.

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