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How Much Did US Officials Know About British Sailors Seized in Disputed Waters?

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A reader points to a Times Online article reporting on new official documents released by the British parliament revealing that the British sailors who were captured by the Iranians were in fact in disputed waters, and not in Iraqi waters as initially claimed by US and British officials. Some of the findings include:

Fifteen British sailors and Marines were seized by Iran in internationally disputed waters and not in Iraq’s maritime territory as Parliament was told, according to new official documents released to The Times.

The Britons were seized because the US-led coalition designated a sea boundary for Iran’s territorial waters without telling the Iranians where it was, internal Ministry of Defence briefing papers reveal.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act detail for the first time the blunders last spring that led to what an all-party committee of MPs came to describe as a “national embarrassment”.

The captured 14 men and one woman were paraded on Iranian TV for a fortnight before being freed a year ago by a smiling President Ahmadinejad, who gave them new suits and bags of presents.

Newly released Ministry of Defence documents state that:

— The arrests took place in waters that are not internationally agreed as Iraqi;

— The coalition unilaterally designated a dividing line between Iraqi and Iranian waters in the Gulf without telling Iran where it was;

— The Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ coastal protection vessels were crossing this invisible line at a rate of three times a week; It was the British who apparently raised their weapons first before the Iranian gunboats came alongside;

— The cornered British, surrounded by heavily armed Iranians, made a hopeless last-minute radio plea for a helicopter to come back and provide air cover.

Iran always claimed that it had arrested the Britons for violating its territorial integrity.

The reader poses the following questions:

On March 31, President Bush confidently stated that the British sailors “were in Iraqi water”, referring to them as “hostages.”

On April 5, Secretary Gates claimed that it was “clear” that the sailors were “well inside” Iraqi waters.

Q Mr. Secretary, can I ask you about the arrest of the British naval and marine personnel by Iran and their recent release? Did you see that action as an act of belligerence against an ally? And what steps are you considering taking to avoid a situation like that arising again?

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I think it’s clear that the British sailors were well inside Iraqi waters when they were seized.

But if the British knew that their sailors were not in Iraqi waters, is it possible that high-level US officials, civilian or military, did not know?

What did President Bush know and when did he know it?
What did Secretary Gates know and when did he know it?
What will they tell us they know next week, or the week after?

Irancove @ May 13, 2008

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