President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad decided that war with the West looming on the horizon over fifteen British hostages was too much to risk, and defused the growing confrontation with Britain by surprisingly releasing the fifteen British sailors being held captive by his government. He then called it an Easter gift.
After arriving at Tehran's airport they are expected to fly out of there to London on Thursday morning.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair proclaimed that he felt "profound relief" over the peaceful end to the 13-day crisis. "Throughout we have taken a measured approach _ firm but calm, not negotiating, but not confronting either," Blair said in London, adding a message to the Iranian people that "we bear you no ill will."
The crisis had escalated since March 23rd, raising fears of military conflict in the volatile region. The move to release the sailors suggests that Iran's hard-line leadership decided it had shown its strength but did not want to push the standoff too far.
Syria claims played a part in the release.
The announcement of the release came hours after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with President Bashar Assad in Damascus, trying to show that a U.S. dialogue with Syria which had been rejected by the Bush administration according to the mainstream media could bring benefits for the Middle East. The British sailors were not part of their talks, and it was not clear if the release was timed to coincide with her visit. The Democrats will undoubtedly consider this a feather in their cap, and will probably milk it for all it's worth.
Ahmadinejad's announcement of the release was companioned by a quip that the British government was "not brave enough" to admit the crew had been in Iranian waters when it was captured. Britain, the United States, and the United Nations still claims that the sailors were in Iraqi waters when captured.
Ahmadinejad then declared that even though Iran had the right to put the Britons on trial, he had "pardoned" them to mark the March 30 birthday of the Prophet Muhammad and the coming Easter holiday.
"This pardon is a gift to the British people," he said.
My, isn't he a nice guy? (sarcasm intended)
Ahmadinejad beamed on the steps of the presidential palace shaking hands with the Britons.
"Your people have been really kind to us, and we appreciate it very much," one of the British men told Ahmadinejad in English. Another male service member said: "We are grateful for your forgiveness."
Ahmadinejad responded in Farsi, "You are welcome."
Why do I smell B.S.?
Three other members of the crew were later interviewed on Iranian state-run television, apologizing for the alleged incursion into Iran's waters and again thanking Ahmadinejad for their release.
We will find out later if they were coached.
Understandably, the U.S. welcomed Iran's announcement with caution. Vice President Dick Cheney said "it was unfortunate that they were ever taken in the first place."
Interesting how the release suddenly happened after the U.S. and Britain beefed up their military presence in the Persian Gulf in response to the kidnapping.
These tensions coincide with U.S. accusations that Iran has been sending weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq. When the British sailors were taken, many speculated that the Iranians seized the Britons in retaliation for the detention of five Iranians by U.S. forces in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil in January. Iran has denied any connection.