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Blair turns hawkish on Tehran

Atul Aneja

Says elements in Iranian regime supporting terrorism in Iraq


DUBAI: British Prime Minister Tony Blair has made critical remarks about Iran soon after the 15 sailors who were set free by Tehran landed in London on Thursday. Mr. Blair welcomed the return of the sailors but accused elements within the Iranian regime of supporting terrorism in Iraq.

At a press conference, Mr. Blair said, "At the same time as we are open to bilateral dialogue and to pursue the lines of communication that have been opened up in the last two weeks, we have to hold absolutely firm in relation to support from any aspect of the Iranian regime for terrorism."

Mr. Blair made these observations soon after it was confirmed that a roadside bomb had killed four British soldiers in Basra. Mr. Blair said it was "far too early" to point to any Iranian involvement in that attack. However, `The general picture, as I have said before is there are elements at least of the Iranian regime that are backing, financing, arming, and terrorism in Iraq."

In sharp contrast, the mood in Tehran was of reconciliation, a day after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered the release of the sailors. The Iranian website Baztab, which is run by the Mohsen Rezai, a former revolutionary guards commander, highlighted the President's remarks during the Wednesday's press conference that reconciliation with the U.S. was possible in case Washington altered its behaviour towards Tehran.

PHOTO: AP

THE SMILE IS BACK: Four of the 15 released Royal Navy personnel on their arrival at London's Heathrow airport on Thursday. Earlier, they left Tehran for home after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered their release on Wednesday.

The Fars news agency also stressed upon his assertion that Iran was seeking friendly ties with all countries except Israel.

However, some Iranian parliamentarians warned the Western powers that the arrest and release of the British soldiers showed that Iran was capable of defending its rights. "[The] arrest and release of the British sailors proved that if Iran's issues and demands are overlooked at the international level, the Islamic Republic can create different challenges for the other side," said an Iranian MP Amir Hassankhani.

Observers say Iran had accomplished two key objectives by successfully handling the standoff. First, it has conveyed the message that western countries are likely to achieve better results when they treat Tehran with respect and equality, rather than confrontation. Secondly, despite the asymmetry in the military capability between the West and Iran, Tehran was capable of striking western interests successfully.

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