Iran Continues to Hold 15 Captured British Sailors

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Iran said Monday it was questioning 15 British sailors and marines to determine if their alleged entry into Iranian waters was “intentional or unintentional” before deciding what to do with them. Iran maintains the sailors and marines crossed over into Iranian waters, while Britain insists they stayed in Iraqi territory. We go to Tehran to get a report. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Iran. Iran said Monday it’s questioning 15 British sailors and marines to determine if their alleged entry into Iranian waters was intentional or unintentional, before deciding what to do with them. The 14 men and one woman were captured at gunpoint Friday after searching a civilian cargo vessel in the Shatt al-Arab, the thin waterway in the Persian Gulf that marks the border between Iran and Iraq. Iran maintains the sailors and marines crossed over into Iranian waters, while Britain insists they stayed in Iraqi territory. Iran has refused to say where the captured personnel were being held or to allow British officials to speak with them. Calls for the British soldiers’ release came from the European Union, Iraq and the United States, under whose command they were serving when they were seized.

Borzou Daragahi is a Middle East correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. He’s been covering this story. He joins me now on the line from Tehran.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Borzou Daragahi.

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Thanks a lot.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us the latest? First of all, what is this disputed area, and what you know about what’s happening?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, I mean, the disputed area is near the Shatt al-Arab waterway, but according to U.S., British and Iranian officials, it was out in the Persian Gulf in the open seas where this took place. So it’s really hard. There’s no land barrier. There’s no markers saying where Iran starts and Iraq ends. The dispute is over — ostensibly, it’s over whether the British marines and sailors were in Iranian or Iraqi waters. Of course, there’s a whole bunch of other geopolitical issues that are underlying it and have become tangled up in it.

AMY GOODMAN: Hasn’t this happened before?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Yes. In 2004, there was an incident where British sea persons were in the Shatt al-Arab waterway, and they were allegedly in Iranian territory. They were captured by Iranian troops, and they were taken into custody and released after three days.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what it’s like in Tehran right now? How much awareness is there of this? And then also the effect of the sanctions right now, increased sanctions voted by the U.N. Security Council this past weekend, Borzou?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, right now is the Persian New Year holiday still that started about a week ago, and many people are on vacation. The vast majority of the newspapers don’t publish—something I would welcome in my business on holidays. There’s not a lot going on. A lot of people aren’t even aware of it. State-controlled television has reported on it. Satellite TV stations from the U.S. and other countries have reported on it. There’s not a lot of awareness. There’s not a lot of concern at this point.

As far as the sanctions go, people are somewhat aware that the U.N. voted this weekend and voted to impose further restrictions on Iran’s trade. The sentiment I get on the street, though, is like, “Well, we’re kind of used to that. We’re kind of used to being an international pariah. We’re used to our government getting us in dire straits with the rest of the world community. And, you know, we survived through eight years of war and 20-odd years of sanctions and international isolation, and we’ll survive this round.”

AMY GOODMAN: Any further comment you have, just overall, being in Tehran right now? And also, what is it like to report from Tehran? You have reported for a long time from Iraq. Can you compare them?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: Well, I mean, compared to Iraq, you’re not being targeted by mass gunmen on the streets here. It’s a little bit more restricted in terms of the political situation here. I would compare it to experiences that I’ve heard recounted by people who report in Russia or China. There’s a very robust state security apparatus, and they try to keep an eye on everybody.

AMY GOODMAN: Borzou Daragahi, I want to thank you very much for joining us, journalist with the Los Angeles Times, speaking to us on the phone from Tehran. Iran’s capture of the 15 British sailors and marines took place as the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously in favor of further sanctions against Iran for its refusal to suspend its nuclear enrichment program. The economic sanctions target Iran’s arms exports, state bank, its elite Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Iranian government denounced the sanctions package as illegal, announced it would limit cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.

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