Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced he will free 15 British sailors and marines, captured by Iranian forces in what they said were Iranian territorial waters in the Gulf nearly two weeks ago. The British government immediately welcomed the news, as VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London.
"A gift to the British people," was how President Ahmadinejad described his decision to free the 15 sailors and marines.
Mr. Ahmadinejad said the naval crew was pardoned. He said he was "saddened" by what he called Britain's violation of Iranian waters and said its government was simply not brave enough to admit the truth.
The Iranian leader made the announcement during a lengthy news conference in Tehran, during which he made numerous references to Islamic religious verses and also chastised the West, particularly Britain and the United States for its actions and policies.
At one point, he praised the Revolutionary Guard crew responsible for the capture of the British sailors nearly two weeks ago. He also gave a medal to the guard commander.
Then, in a surprise, dramatic move the president announced the British sailors would be freed.
After the news conference, Mr. Ahmadinejad went directly to a meeting with the sailors and marines, who are expected to leave Tehran on Thursday.
In London, the British government welcomed the decision and began preparations to bring the navy crew home.
A U.S. State Department spokesman in Washington also welcomed the Iranian move.