Students throw rocks at British Embassy in Tehran

Posted in Iran | 02-Apr-07 | Source: International Herald Tribune

Iranian hardline students throw stones at the British embassy in Tehran.

TEHRAN: About 200 Iranian youths Sunday threw rocks and firecrackers at the British Embassy, as the British government said it was in direct contact with Iran over the capture of 15 British sailors and marines.

Defense Secretary Des Browne said that Britain was in "direct, bilateral communication with the Iranians." A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defense said Browne was referring to letters and other contacts between diplomats, rather than any new face-to-face talks.

Browne, on a visit to Afghanistan, said Britain had "the support of almost the whole international community" in calling for the release of its personnel, who were seized by Iran on March 23.

Britain maintains that they were in Iraqi waters when detained, but Iran has contended the Britons entered its waters illegally.

In Iran, hard-liners called for their government to remain firm.

Iran's Arabic-language satellite television channel said Sunday it planned to air "confessions" from two of the 15 British sailors captured by Iran 10 days ago.

Al Alam TV said it would broadcast excerpts of what it said were "confessions." It did not say specifically when it would be aired or name which sailors would appear.

At the protest Sunday, several dozen police officers prevented the protesters from entering the embassy compound, although a few briefly scaled a fence outside the compound's walls before being pushed back.

The protesters chanted "Death to Britain" and "Death to America" as they hurled stones into the embassy's courtyard.

They also demanded that the Iranian government expel the British ambassador and close down the embassy, calling it a "den of spies."

Britain's Foreign Office said there had been no damage to the compound.

A spokeswoman at the British Foreign Office in London, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government rules, said diplomats were working normally inside the embassy.

"There is a police presence outside and there is no risk to those inside," said the spokeswoman.

British government and defense officials refused to discuss a report that claimed a Royal Navy captain or commodore would be sent to Tehran as a special envoy to negotiate the return of the personnel.

The official would deliver an assurance that British naval crews would never deliberately enter Iranian waters without permission, The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported.

Transport Minister Douglas Alexander said Britain was engaged in "exploring the potential for dialogue with the Iranians."

"The responsible way forward is to continue the often unglamorous, but important and quiet diplomatic work to get our personnel home," Alexander told the BBC.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett appeared to soften rhetoric against Iran on Saturday - though she stopped far short of the apology sought by many in Iran. "I think everyone regrets that this position has arisen," Beckett said in Bremen, Germany, before returning to England.

"What we want is a way out of it."

President George W. Bush on Saturday called for the release of the sailors and marines, calling their capture "inexcusable behavior."

"Iran must give back the hostages," Bush said. "They're innocent, they did nothing wrong, and they were summarily plucked out of waters."

It was the first time that Bush had commented publicly on the captured Britons. Washington has taken a low-key approach to avoid aggravating tensions over the incident and shaking international resolve to get Iran to give up its uranium enrichment program.

Bush did not answer a question about whether the United States would have reacted militarily if those captured had been Americans. The president said he supported Prime Minister Tony Blair's efforts to find a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, now in its second week.

Bush would not comment about Britain's options if Iran does not release the hostages, but he seemed to reject any swapping of the British captives for Iranians detained in Iraq. "I support the prime minister when he made it clear there were no quid pro quos," Bush said.

Eight British sailors and seven marines were detained by Iranian naval units March 23 while patrolling for smugglers near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab, a waterway that has long been a disputed border between Iraq and Iran.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran called world powers "arrogant" for refusing to apologize. "Instead of apologizing over trespassing by British forces, the world arrogant powers issue statements and deliver speeches," Iran's official IRNA press agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying during a speech in the southeastern city of Andinmeshk.