Published: Fri, January 15, 2016
Business | By Max Garcia

Iran frees 10 US Navy sailors


Iranian state television on Wednesday released a video of what it said was one of the American sailors detained Tuesday apologizing following an incursion by two U.S. Navy boats into Iranian waters.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter thanked Kerry after the sailors' release and couched the incident in humanitarian terms, noting that "the U.S. Navy routinely provides assistance to foreign sailors in distress".

They said the boats had been in transit and had not meant to enter Iranian territory.

All 10 U.S. Navy sailors detained by Iran after their two small boats allegedly drifted into Iranian territorial waters around one of Iran's Persian Gulf islands a day earlier have been freed, the United States and Iran said Wednesday. Radio contact was lost with the two vessels - riverine patrol boats under 20 m in length - while they were en route from Kuwait to Bahrain.

The navigational error cited by Carter was compounded by some sort of engine trouble aboard one of the boats, another US defense official said. Some called for a review of the nuclear deal in light of Iran's actions.

The video appeared after Vice President Biden said on CBS News earlier on Wednesday that the US did not apologize to Iran and had nothing to apologize for.

He says U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's relationship with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif played a key role in this case. Kerry "personally engaged with Zarif on this issue to try to get to this outcome", the official said.

Before daybreak in Washington, at about 3:45 a.m., Iranian boats escorted the sailors to a rendezvous point in the Persian Gulf where they boarded the USS Anzio.

"Iran and the US have gone a long way in reducing tensions, but still have a long way to go in improving their contacts". Kerry, who has been criticized by President Barack Obama's opponents in the U.S. Congress as too soft on Tehran, last week said the agreement would be implemented "in the coming days".

In some of the photos, the sailors appear on their knees with their hands behind their heads, and in others, it appears they have been compelled to remove their boots. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said they are being debriefed and getting medical exams but were not harmed.

"There's nothing to apologize for", Biden said. The craft is not considered high-tech and don't contain any sensitive equipment, so there were no concerns about the Iranians gaining access to them, they added. The engine problem did not cause the boats to go off course, but apparently prevented them from evading the Iranians once the crews realized they were in Iran's territorial waters. 

"This was just standard nautical practice".

The U.S. Navy has been able to speak with the captured sailors, a senior U.S. official told CNN.

Before announcing the U.S. sailors' release, Press TV reported the group of 10, being held on Farsi Island off the coast of Iran, were "likely to be released soon" because their presence there was unintended, quoting a spokesman of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, CNN reported.

The military personnel and their two vessels were released and taken to an undisclosed location in the gulf after the incident was diffused, USA news reports said on Wednesday. Harmer said that whatever else happens, this incident is "very valuable" in Iran for the propaganda aspect.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough says he's hesitant to draw big lessons from the incident about the state of U.S.-Iran relations. In one incident, Iran temporarily seized a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship over what it said was a commercial dispute before releasing it and its crew more than a week later. U.S. and Iranian officials scrambled to defuse the situation, which unfolded as the nuclear accord edged toward its final steps, with a top Iranian official saying the deal should be implemented by Sunday.

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