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British Service Members Detained in Iran Arrive Home


The 15 British sailors and marines detained in Iran for nearly two weeks have arrived home in Britain. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London, Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed their return, but says no deals were made with Iran to gain their release.

The British navy crew arrived at London's Heathrow airport at midday. Dressed in their military uniforms, they paused briefly for photos and were then taken straight to waiting military helicopters and flown to a military base southwest of London for debriefing and private reunions with their families.

Prime Minister Blair welcomed their return.

"We are glad that our service personnel returned safe and unharmed from their captivity," he said.

The sailors and marines were detained by Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces March 23 and accused of having strayed into Iranian territorial waters in the Gulf, an accusation Britain rejects.

In a surprise move Wednesday, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the sailors and marines were being released.

There were intense discussions between London and Tehran to end the standoff and Mr. Blair said a dual track of talk and pressure was responsible for a successful outcome.

"We have managed to secure the release of our personnel more quickly than many people anticipated and have done so, and I want to make this very clear, without any deal, without any negotiation, without any side agreement of any nature whatever," Mr. Blair said.

Mr. Blair said this dual strategy is one the international community should continue to follow in dealing with Iran, whether it concerns neighboring Iraq, terrorism or Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The British prime minister also lamented the death of four British soldiers in Basra, in southern Iraq.

"Just as we rejoice at the return of our 15 service personnel, so today we are also grieving and mourning for the loss of our soldiers in Basra, who were killed as a result of a terrorist act," he said.

The four soldiers and a civilian interpreter were killed by a roadside bomb.

In his comments in London, Mr. Blair did not link the Basra attack to Iran, but he said there are elements of the Iranian government that back, finance, arm and support terrorism in Iraq. It is a charge Tehran denies.

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