Protesters Mob British Embassy in Tehran Iranian protesters crowd around Britain's embassy in Tehran, urging a trial for the 15 British sailors and marines Iran holds. Britain's defense secretary says the nations are in communication on the matter of the sailors.
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Protesters Mob British Embassy in Tehran

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Protesters Mob British Embassy in Tehran

Protesters Mob British Embassy in Tehran

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

(Soundbite of Tehran crowd protesting)

ELLIOTT: About 200 Iranian protesters mobbed Britain's embassy in Tehran today, chanting Death to Britain and Death to America. Some threw stones and scaled a fence but apparently caused no damage and did not enter the building.

Iran is still holding 15 British sailors and marines seized more than a week ago, when Iran says they both entered Iranian waters. Britain insists the vessel was in Iraqi waters at the time.

Today, Britain's defense secretary, Des Browne, said his country is in talks with Iran over the matter.

Mr. DES BROWNE (Secretary of State for Defence, Great Britain): We are anxious that this matter be resolved as quickly as possible and it be resolved by diplomatic means, and we are bending every single effort to that that we are in direct bilateral communication with the Iranians, and we know that not only, you know, have we a very clear position, and but that we have the support of almost the whole of the international community.

ELLIOTT: We're joined now by Ken Pollack. He's a former CIA analyst now with the Brookings Institution. Mr. Pollack, we just heard Des Browne say that Britain is in direct bilateral communication with Iran. Does this mean negotiations?

Mr. KEN POLLACK (Middle East Analyst, Brookings Institution): Well, I'm sure it's some form of negotiation although with the Iranians involved, it may be a negotiation about negotiations. It's reasonable to expect that there has been some contact and there seems to be confirmation of it. What's really unclear is whether there's real progress being made.

ELLIOTT: I want to ask you now about U.S. policy toward Iran. Yesterday, President Bush described the British sailors and marines as hostages; he said holding them was, quote, "inexcusable behavior." Is the U.S. likely to get more involved here?

Mr. POLLACK: I doubt that the United States will get more actively involved. This is certainly a moment when the Bush administration can take advantage of the situation, and I think that President Bush, on the one hand, wants to make it clear to the world that Iran's behavior is unacceptable. I think that obviously benefits the United States in a whole variety of different ways with regard to our policy toward Iraq, with regard to U.S. efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear program.

At the same time, I think President Bush needs to demonstrate that he is supportive of our allies in Great Britain and his good friend, Mr. Blair.

ELLIOTT: While all of this is going on, just this week, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations within Washington - isn't it unusual for the State Department to allow the Iranian diplomat to travel out of the New York area?

Mr. POLLACK: It certainly is unusual, although it's not unprecedented. From time to time, the State Department does allow the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations to come down to Washington for different ventures. There obviously is always a question mark when they do allow it as to why. To some extent, it does seem to be part of a larger effort on the part of the Bush administration as trying to portray themselves as being the reasonable party when it comes to the dispute between the United States and Iran or Iran and the international community, if you want to frame it that way.

ELLIOTT: Is there any information on what the ambassador was doing here, who he was talking to?

Mr. POLLACK: He spoke to a whole variety of different groups. I participated in one of those groups, and since it was conducted under Chatham House rules, I can't really tell you anything more about it except to say that he was clearly trying to reach out to people in the media, in the think-tank communities elsewhere around the Washington elite, who have the ability to convey messages to the Bush administration, who will help shape opinion here in the United States, and who might even be able to help shape the Bush administration's thinking.

ELLIOTT: Any official contacts with the administration?

Mr. POLLACK: If so, they're doing a pretty good job of keeping it secret, but that's not to say that it's not going on.

ELLIOTT: Ken Pollack is the Middle East analyst with the Brookings Institution. Thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. POLLACK: My pleasure. Thank you.

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