Impasse with Britain Stirs Angst in Iran Iran's leaders continue to joust with Great Britain over 15 British sailors and marines who have been detained in Iran. But Iran's stance is making at least some Iranians nervous about what might follow.
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Impasse with Britain Stirs Angst in Iran

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Impasse with Britain Stirs Angst in Iran

Impasse with Britain Stirs Angst in Iran

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President Bush added his voice to the chorus demanding the immediate release of 15 British sailors and marines who are currently in Iranian custody. Those members of the British Royal Navy have been held by Iranian forces for more than a week. Iran accuses them of straying into its sovereign waters. Britain has announced that it is engaged in direct bilateral communication with Iran. Yesterday, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the nation regrets the impasse.

But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called the British response arrogant and insists on an apology. Joining us now is Roxana Saberi. She's a reporter in Iran. Roxana, first, how is the British statement of regret being received?

ROXANA SABERI: Iran's foreign minister has said that his country is waiting for a change in behavior by Britain, although he didn't give a lot of details about what he meant. He also said that his country is studying a written message that it has received by the British foreign secretary. He said that there are many points in this note that we are going to look into.

HANSEN: How are ordinary Iranians responding to this crisis?

SABERI: There has been a mix of reactions. Hundreds of hard-line students have been protesting in front of the British embassy in Tehran, shouting: Death to Britain. And they've thrown a few small firebombs, which are pretty harmless, at the British embassy. Many Iranians do believe that the Britons trespassed into Iranian waters, as their government says. Some of them say that their country has the right to capture the marines and sailors and should not free them until London apologizes.

But others say even if the capture was legitimate, holding on to the Britons for this many days is only going to increase international pressure on their country. And still others don't believe the Britons were in Iranian waters and that Iran is just playing political games.

HANSEN: There have been conflicting messages coming out of Iran about who has real influence over the fate of these British sailors. Who does? What about President Ahmadinejad?

SABERI: Well, I think the president is one important voice, but he's not the most important. And one reason is that he was pretty silent the first few days after this incident happened. He actually - and it's interesting too that the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council spoke out first on this subject, and then the president waited until just a couple of days ago. He may have wanted to show that he didn't orchestrate the capture of these British sailors but that the whole nation was behind it. I think, though, Ahmadinejad is one important voice among many, but, of course, the final decision maker will be the supreme leader.

HANSEN: Earlier in the week, officials suggested that the sole woman among the captives would be released. Is that still a possibility?

SABERI: Yes, the foreign minister has said that the sole woman - her name is Faye Turney - would be released soon. But then another top official said shortly afterward that because of London's harsh rhetoric, her release could be suspended or delayed.

I think Iran had wanted to show that it holds a special respect for women. And it's still possible that she could be released before the others, but as this dispute continues, I think it's more likely they'll all be released together.

HANSEN: Is the prospect of a trial likely? At least one Iranian leader has said that they could face a trial for their actions.

SABERI: Iran's ambassador to Moscow did say - he was reported as saying that the Britons could face trial if there's enough evidence of guilt, as he said, but then later, he was reported as denying that he made those remarks and he said that his comments had been incorrectly translated.

I think it's pretty doubtful that the Britons will be put on trial, and likely Iran wants to resolve this through diplomacy. I think Tehran wants an apology, and probably in the end, the main decision makers will decide that it's better to finish this sooner rather than later.

And also they sent a message to the international community that Iran is strong, and that if we get - if pressure on Iran increases, Tehran will not step down.

HANSEN: Roxana Saberi is a reporter in Iran. Thank you very much.

SABERI: Thanks for having me.

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