» Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Iran/Kidnapped personnel

Asked what did the Prime Minister mean today when he said that the situation could move into a "different phase" if the Navy personnel were not released, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) replied that he still hoped people would remain very careful about what they said about the situation. We had been clearly stating that we were utterly certain that the personnel were in Iraqi waters. So far, we had not made explicit why we knew that because we did not want to escalate this. We might have to get to the stage where we do become more explicit about why we know, and we did not want to do that too soon, as we would prefer this to be resolved quietly and privately. That was all that the Prime Minister meant; he did not mean anything else, so people should not over-interpret what he said.

Asked how would offering the Iranians proof of GPS co-ordinates etc threaten to upset them or inflame the situation, the PMOS said that there was a difference between doing things privately and doing them publicly, because it was a simple fact of life that once exchanges of public statements had happened, it because sometimes more difficult for people to move. It was a calculation. Equally, however, we wanted people, and the international community in particular, to be in no doubt that we believed that we were in the right in this case.

Put that it was difficult to understand why it was so hard for relations if we did not publicly say the reason why we were so sure, the PMOS replied that it was simply a matter of what was judged to be the best way in which to carry out a discussion. Sometimes, the best way was not to do so in a public way, as the point could be made privately. Once it went public, it did become sometimes more difficult to resolve matters quietly, especially when dealing with countries like Iran.

Asked if this evidence had been presented to the Iranians, the PMOS said that the question was the right one, but he was not going to get into it.

Asked if we were pushing for consular access, and if so, would that not recognise the right to hold prisoners, the PMOS replied that we would still pursue the release of our personnel, as that was priority number one. The PMOS said that he was not going to give a commentary on anything else.

Asked if Iran and Iraq recognised the same border on the waterways, the PMOS said that there was a dispute over elements of the border, but that was not an issue in this case.

Put that there were rumours that Iran was asking our soldiers if there might have been inadvertent moves into Iranian waters, and did that suggest they were looking for a way out of this, just as we were looking to get the crew back, the PMOS replied that it was a delicate situation, and it was best for him not to commentate on what people said. We wanted to resolve this quickly and without having public confrontations with them, but what the Prime Minister was indicating was that we did want to resolve it. If we could not resolve it quickly, then we might have to become more explicit.

Put that the logical conclusion was that there was an incursion into Iraqi waters by Iranian forces, and had we made any comment on that, and had the Iraqi Government made any protest on it, the PMOS replied that he followed where the logic went, but it might not be the most helpful thing if something wanted to be resolved quietly to start talking about those kinds of things.

Asked if that was why it would create difficulties if we proved where they were at the time, the PMOS said that again, it was one of those matters that had to be judged very carefully.

Asked to confirm that when the Prime Minister had used the phrase "a different phase", he was not referring to more drastic action like "chucking out the Iranians from London", military action, or being deliberately ambiguous to try to ratchet up a reaction, the PMOS said that was correct; it was a different phase in how we were handling it at this stage.

Asked if there was to be another incident in which the Iranian sailors confronted British personnel, would they do the same, and how would it be handled in the same sentence, the PMOS said that it was not often he could say that not only was the question operational, but it was also hypothetical.

Asked if the UK Government knew where the 14 personnel were, the PMOS replied that he did not want to get into that.

Briefing took place at 9:00 | Search for related news

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