Kerry thanks Iran for releasing U.S. sailors
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday thanked Iran for its cooperation in the release of 10 sailors who had mistakenly entered Iran’s territorial waters, an incident that stoked international tension.
“I want to express my gratitude to Iranian authorities for their cooperation in swiftly resolving this matter,” Kerry said in a statement. “That this issue was resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong.”
The sailors’ swift release quickly diffused what could have escalated into an international crisis days before Iran is expected to meet the terms of last summer’s nuclear deal with world powers. The deal gives Iran significant relief from painful economic sanctions.
The nine men and one woman were held at an Iranian base on Farsi Island after they were detained nearby on Tuesday. The tiny outpost has been used as a base for Revolutionary Guard speedboats as far back as the 1980s.
The Navy said there were no indications they had been harmed while in custody.
The sailors departed the island at 0843 GMT aboard the boats they were detained with, the Navy said. They were picked up by Navy aircraft and other sailors took control of their boats for the return voyage to Bahrain, where the U.S. 5th Fleet is based.
The sailors will be taken ashore somewhere in the region so that they can receive support to reintegrate with their unit, said 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Kevin Stephens. He declined to say where they were traveling to or provide details on their identities. Stephens said the priority now is “determining … how exactly these sailors found themselves in Iran. And that’s something we’re going to be looking at.”
The Revolutionary Guard’s official website published images of the detained U.S. sailors before their release, showing them sitting on the floor of a room. They look mostly bored or annoyed, though at least one of the sailors appears to be smiling. The sole woman had her hair covered by a brown cloth.
The pictures also showed what appeared to be their two boats.
“After determining that their entry into Iran’s territorial waters was not intentional and their apology, the detained American sailors were released in international waters,” a statement posted online by the Guard said Wednesday. Vice President Joe Biden, speaking later to “CBS This Morning,” denied that Americans made any apology.
“There’s nothing to apologize for,” Biden said. “When you have a problem with the boat you apologize the boat had a problem? No, and there was no looking for any apology. This was just standard nautical practice.”
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday that Tehran had asked the U.S. for an apology for “violating” Iran’s territorial waters, after the American sailors were arrested.