ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
We have breaking news to start this hour. Ten U.S. Navy sailors - nine men and one woman - are being detained by Iran. Tehran says the U.S. patrol boats strayed into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf. So far, details are sketchy. NPR's Tom Bowman has been talking with defense officials about what's happened, and he joins us now in the studio. Hey, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: First, are these American troops safe?
BOWMAN: Well, these sailors are safe. That's according to the Pentagon. They've been held for maybe six or seven hours. We don't know exactly where they are at this point, either on a ship or at sea or ashore somewhere, so it's really kind of sketchy now.
SHAPIRO: What do we know about how this happened, how they came into Iranian custody?
BOWMAN: Well, Ari the defense officials say that there were two American craft called riverine crafts. It's sort of like small patrol boats. And they were on their way from Kuwait down to Bahrain where the U.S. maintains the Fifth Fleet. And at some point, I was told that they drifted into Iranian waters, and they were captured, basically. And also, we don't know what kind of ship - Iranian ship captured them, but we're told, according to the Fars News Agency, it was the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that grabbed them.
SHAPIRO: Drifted into Iranian waters - seems significant. Is their precedent for something like this happening before? Do American diplomats have a script to work from in this situation?
BOWMAN: Well, actually, it happened 2007 with 15 British sailors and marines. They were operating in the Persian Gulf, inspecting ships for any contraband. And they were swarmed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and held for 13 days. They also drifted into Iranian waters, so there is precedent for this. But as far as we know, this has never happened with American sailors.
SHAPIRO: And of course, this comes after a very tense year of negotiations with Iran over the nuclear program. We know that Secretary of State John Kerry called his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to talk about this. What happens now?
BOWMAN: Well, we were told by defense officials that they're in communication, also, with the Iranian officials. They're being told that they're being held safely and that hopefully before long, they'll be allowed to go on their way. But again, they've been held for six or seven hours now. We're not sure exactly when they'll be released.
SHAPIRO: As far as the U.S. Obama administration is concerned, it's terrible timing coming hours before President Obama's final State of the Union address.
BOWMAN: Absolutely. And we don't know how they would've drifted into Iranian waters. This is the Persian Gulf. It's a fairly big stretch of water here, so that's one of the big questions here. How could they have strayed into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf?
SHAPIRO: Well, we'll be updating this story as we learn more throughout the program and throughout the evening. Thanks for joining us.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Ari.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.
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