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Iran urges UK goodwill on sailors

Story Highlights

• Iran urges Britain to respond with goodwill to the release of 15 British sailors
• 15 naval crew on Saturday beginning two weeks' leave with their families
• British service members say they were subjected to "psychological pressure"
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Iran has urged Britain to respond with goodwill to the release of 15 British sailors and marines held captive in Tehran for 13 days.

The naval crew members were on Saturday beginning two weeks' leave with their families in Britain.

Ambassador Rasoul Movahedian told the Financial Times newspaper that Iran had "showed our goodwill" by freeing the sailors.

"Now it is up to the British government to proceed in a positive way," he was quoted as saying on Saturday.

The newspaper said Movahedian spoke before the group's officers told a news conference the naval crew were subjected to "psychological pressure" and kept in isolation during their detention. (Watch the sailors describe their experiences in captivity Video)

"We share in the British people's happiness and we believe it is the right time for the British government to affirm its willingness to establish sensible lines of communication with Iran," the ambassador was quoted as saying.

He said "the prime issue for Iran" was recognition from the West of its right to a nuclear power program.

The West accuses Iran of pursuing a nuclear weapons program under cover of its civilian nuclear program. Iran denies this, insisting that its program is devoted to producing nuclear energy.

Movahedian said the release of the British crew was unconnected to the fate of five Iranians held by U.S. forces in Iraq. U.S. officials said last week that Iran would have consular access to the detainees, but denied the decision was linked to the fate of British crew. Britain also denied a link.

But Movahedian indicated help from the British on the matter would be appreciated.

"If they want to be helpful and use their influence we will welcome that. ... We will welcome in general any steps that could defuse tensions in the region."

The sailors and marines, who were seized from patrol boats on March 23, returned to the UK on Thursday after 13 days in Iranian captivity.

Lt. Felix Carman of the British Royal Navy, addressing a news conference at a military base in Chivenor, southwestern England, said the sailors and marines were well outside Iranian waters when the incident occurred -- despite previous statements to the contrary while in Iranian custody.

"Irrespective of what has been said in the past, when we were detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard ... I can clearly state we were 1.7 nautical miles from Iranian waters," Carman said. (Read the full statement)

Iran reacted to those comments by saying the briefing was "staged" to cover up the mistake made by the British crew by entering Iranian waters.

"Such staged moves cannot cover up the mistake made by British military personnel who illegally entered Iran's territory," Iran's Foreign Ministry said in a statement faxed to Reuters.

Iranian state-run television accused British Prime Minister Tony Blair of pressuring the marines and sailors into disavowing their admission to the Iraqi military that their vessel had strayed into Iranian territorial waters.

Iranian television repeated the reasons President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had given for freeing the captives -- that the act was being done out of kindness and a desire for peace, and in respect for last week's anniversary of the birthday of the prophet Mohammed and the upcoming Christian celebration of Easter.

UK suspends boarding operations

Meanwhile, military sources said on Friday that Britain had suspended boarding operations in the Persian Gulf and launched a review into the circumstances that led to the 15's capture and detention. (Watch as Pentagon also reviews Gulf operations Video)

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence said a "detailed inquiry" was under way and that debriefings of the group would continue, the UK's Press Association reported.

First Sea Lord Jonathon Band, the head of the Royal Navy, confirmed boarding operations involving British forces had been suspended.

"For the moment we have stopped UK boarding operations," Band told BBC radio. "We will obviously do a complete review."

Band said the review of the incident would consider intelligence, equipment and procedures as well as examining the rules of engagement for British forces operating in the area.

He also defended the conduct of the 15 during their captivity, commenting that their "confessions" to Iranian state media appeared to have been made under "a certain amount of psychological pressure."

"From what I have seen of them on the television and I met them personally when they returned to their families yesterday, I think they acted with considerable dignity and a lot of courage," Band said.

He also rejected suggestions that the patrol had been "spying" and said there was "absolutely no doubt" they were in Iraqi waters.


Capt. Christopher Air, left, of the British Royal Marines and Lt. Felix Carman at Friday's news conference.


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