April 5, 2007 -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair today hailed the return to Britain of the 15 service personnel who had been held by Iran.
Blair told reporters in London that their release had been secured "without any deal" or negotiation.
"I think that what has actually happened is that we have managed to secure the release of our personnel I think more quickly than many people anticipated, and have done so incidentally -- and I want to make it very, very clear -- without any deal, without any negotiation, without any side agreement of any nature whatever," he said.
But he said "new and interesting lines of communication" had been opened with Iran in the course of the crisis and that a different relationship with Tehran is possible, if Tehran desires it.
"This is maybe the right moment to reflect on our relationship with Iran," Blair said. "And over the past two weeks we have pursued very much a dual-track strategy -- being open to bilateral dialogue with the Iranian regime, but at the same time mobilizing international support and pressure, whether in the United Nations or in Europe, with the United States of America or our allies out in the region."
No Change In Policy
However, Blair continued to stress old differences between Iran and the United Kingdom, particularly regarding the situation in Iraq.
"The general picture, as I said before, is that there are elements at least of the Iranian regime that are backing , financing, arming, supporting terrorism in Iraq," he said.
"The international community has got to remain absolutely steadfast in enforcing its will, whether it is in respect of nuclear weapons or in respect of the support of any part of the Iranian regime for terrorism, particularly when directed against democratic governments," he added.
The 15 Britons -- 14 men and one woman -- arrived in London on a flight from Tehran at midday today, one day after President Mahmud Ahmadinejad announced their surprise release following nearly two weeks in detention.
The 15 are being flown to a military base in southwest England to be reunited with their families.
The diplomatic standoff had raised international tensions and pushed up oil prices.
Tehran said the Britons were in Iranian waters without permission when they were captured March 23.
Britain insisted they were in Iraqi waters.
... Payvand News - 4/5/07 ... --