Blair condemns continued Iranian ‘propaganda’

Tony Blair has been forced to defend the government’s handling of the ongoing Iranian hostage crisis, as Iran releases a second “confession” from one of the 15 captured sailors.

Royal Marine Nathan Thomas Summers appeared on Iranian television today to “apologise” to the Iranian people for “trespassing” in Iranian waters. His appearance was followed by the release of a third letter purportedly written by Leading Seaman Faye Turney, saying she had been “sacrificed due to the intervening policies of the Bush and Blair governments”.

Both the prime minister and foreign secretary criticised Iran for “blatant propaganda” and attacked Tehran’s “cruel” treatment of the eight Royal Navy and seven Royal Marine personnel.

With many suspecting the two sailors “confessed” under duress, Mr Blair said the Iranian government was “not fooling anyone” by “parading” British sailors. Their use of the sailors was only “enhancing people’s sense of disgust,” he added.

It is “perfectly obvious” the seaman were in Iraqi waters under a UN mandate, the prime minister told reporters. He condemned Iran for the “unlawful” seizure.

Mr Blair said on Tuesday the UK had entered a “new phase” of negotiations, but Ms Beckett admitted this afternoon it was not clear when and how the crisis would conclude.

Mr Blair has now been forced to defend himself against claims the government is being too soft on Iran.

“The most important thing is to make sure that our people are returned safe,” he insisted.

“When talking about the lives [of the detained sailors] we have to proceed as we are.and at the same time to be patient because getting them released is the thing that is most important”

“We have to manage this in a determined way but also a calm way because it is the lives of the personnel that come first.”

Meanwhile, the EU has this afternoon condemned the seizure and said the sailors were in Iraqi waters. It is expected to release a statement calling for the immediate release of the 15 personnel.

Last night the UK failed to persuade the United Nation’s Security Council to “deplore” Iran’s actions and call on it to release the sailors. Instead the council voiced “grave concerns” over the situation and urged Iran to allow British consular access to the detainees.

Britain will continue talks with key allies today, Mr Blair said, insisting the UN and EU already support Britain.

The former ambassador to Tehran, Sir Richard Dalton, has publicly questioned the government’s handling of the crisis. Appearing on the BBC, Sir Richard said ministers had allowed their “anger at the way the sailors are being treated” to affect them.

An appeal to the UN Security Council is the UK’s strongest card, he explained, and the government had potentially played it too early.

It is now a week since the sailors were seized and experts do not expect the situation to be resolved quickly. In contrast, the Britons seized by Iran in 2004 were released after three days.

Diplomatic efforts continued as the Iranian embassy in London released a third letter allegedly written by Faye Turney. Addressed to “British people”, the 26-year-old said she was being better treated than the Iraqis held in Abu Ghraib prison.

It reads: “Whereas we hear and see on the news the way that prisoners were treated in Abu Ghrayb (sic) and other Iraqi jails by the British and American personnel, I have received total respect and faced no harm.

“It is now our time to ask our government to make a change to its oppressive behavior (sic) towards other people.”

Experts question the validity of the letter, pointing to a change in LS Turney’s writing style. Those who met the sailor insist she was apolitical.

Meanwhile, Royal Marine Summers appeared on state television to “confess” to trespassing in Iranian waters.

“We entered Iranian waters without permission,” he said. “We were arrested by Iranian border guards, and I would like to apologise to the Iranian people for this.”

The sailors are being well treated and have been given food, he added. However, British officials claim he is being manipulated and point to signs the tape has been edited.

Following the broadcast, the Foreign Office reiterated its condemnation of Iran’s treatment of the detainees. “As the foreign secretary made clear yesterday, using our servicemen for propaganda reasons in this way is outrageous,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

The Foreign Office confirmed today is has received its first written communication from Iran but refused to reveal its contents. According to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) it accused the UK of trespassing in Iran’s territories.

According to IRNA, the note reads: “Since similar acts had taken place in the past and prior warning had been given against the repetition of such acts, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran protests strongly against this illegal act in violating Iranian territorial waters, emphasises the respect for the rules and principles of international law concerning the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, underlines the responsibility of the British government for the consequences of such violation, and calls for the guarantee to avoid the recurrence of such acts.”