British sailors held in Iran

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The World's Laura Lynch reports on efforts to free five British sailors being held in Iran, after their racing yacht entered Iranian waters last week.

WERMAN: Turning our attention now to Iran, the Kremlin got a warning today from Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He said Russia made a mistake last week when it voted for a UN resolution condemning Iran's nuclear program. He said any new sanctions would have no effect and anyone who took aggressive action against Iran would regret it. Iran also issued a warning today on what could become another international dispute. Tehran said it may take what it called strong action against five British sailors. The five were detained last week after their racing yacht entered Iranian waters. Now the British government is working hard to get them released. The World's Laura Lynch reports.

LAURA LYNCH: The yachtsmen were en route from Bahrain to Dubai to take part in a race when their boat was seized in what Iran says was its territorial waters. They're not apparently being held on an island in the Gulf. David Young is the father of one of the sailors. He spoke to his twenty one year old son, Oliver, yesterday by phone.

DAVID YOUNG: All of us were allowed to have a quick conversation to each of the families. It was only a brief conversation but they did confirm they're being well looked after, being well fed. We believe they are ashore on an island and you know, quite bored now, wanting to see things resolve themselves, obviously.

LYNCH: Their apparent boredom contrasts with the feverish efforts in Britain to secure their release. The foreign secretary, David Miliband, has been trying to keep the incident from escalating.

DAVID MILIBAND: Our contacts with the Iranian authorities suggest this is being dealt with in a professional and appropriate way. This is a consular case which involves five young people and we certainly see it being treated as such. We're keen that this be resolved as soon as possible. We understand that the five young people are being treated well which is obviously good and right.

LYNCH: What's more worrying are some of the remarks coming from Tehran about the sailor's intentions. [SOUNDS LIKE] Hashmat Tulah Fullaltishe is a member of the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission.

SPEAKER: These people were arrested based on the international conventions. If it's felt that they've entered Iranian waters inadvertently, Iran will cooperate. But if it's determined that they did it on purpose, then Iran has the right to prosecute them.

LYNCH: Britain's efforts to keep politics out of this aren't surprising. Last July, Iran arrested three Americans who were hiking along the Iraq-Iran border. They're now facing espionage charges. Iranian-American journalist, Husman Majed, says Iran's actions are predictable, given how high tensions have become in the wake of the June election and the protests that have followed it.

HUSMAN MAJED: So anytime an American or a British citizen ends up on the wrong side of the border, whether it's a maritime border or whether it's the hikers, the American hikers who crossed over earlier this summer, Iran is going to be very, very suspicious, maybe only momentarily but it is going to be suspicious given that there still is a tremendous amount of suspicious about British involvement and the potential involvement in the unrest following the election.

LYNCH: Still, Majed thinks the sailors may be released soon. Ali Ansari of the Iranian Institute at the University of St. Andrews disagrees. Ansari says the sailors may serve a useful purpose.

ALI ANSARI: The Iranians will say it has to go through a process; they'll want to show that they're doing that investigation and if we start to increase the pressure on this end, it may actually delay things. My only concern I suppose is that some Iranians will see this as a useful distraction. I mean the more we pay attention, it takes people's attentions away from other problems that the government may be having.

LYNCH: Already there's word that some Iranian government supporters are planning a protest at the British Embassy in Tehran tomorrow against what they're calling an illegal trespassing. It's a sign that despite Britain's efforts, the yacht crew may yet become ensnared in a messy political standoff between the two nations. For The World, I'm Laura Lynch in London.