LONDON (Reuters) - Iran called on Britain on Saturday to respond to the release of 15 military personnel with goodwill, signalling it would welcome this over Iranians held by U.S. forces in Iraq and its nuclear program.
“We played our part and we showed our goodwill. Now it is up to the British government to proceed in a positive way,” Iran’s ambassador to Britain, Rasoul Movahedian, told the Financial Times in an interview.
U.S. forces in Iraq have arrested a number of Iranians, including diplomats, in the past and are still holding five. Washington accuses Tehran of aiding militants fighting U.S. forces in Iraq. Iran denies the charge.
Movahedian said the release of the Britons was not linked to any other case, but added: “If (the British) want to be helpful and use their influence we will welcome that ... We will welcome in general any steps that could defuse tensions in the region.”
Some media reports during the two-week standoff over Tehran’s seizure of the Britons that ended on Thursday said Iran wanted the five Iranians freed in return for releasing the 15.
Movahedian said it was a “mutual task” for Iran and the world’s major powers to “glean the fruits” of Tehran’s decision to release the Britons.
He said he would welcome recognition by the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- of what Iran says is its right to enrich uranium in its nuclear programme for peaceful purposes.
“That’s the prime issue for Iran and I think that could help set a new basis for our future relations with Western countries,” he said.
“We share in the British people’s happiness (over the release of the 15) and we believe it is the right time for the British government to affirm its willingness to establish sensible lines of communication with Iran.”
The West suspects Iran has a secret programme to build nuclear weapons. Tehran says its programme is solely for power.
Britain says no deal was to struck with Iran to end the standoff over Tehran’s seizure of the 15 sailors and marines.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday he had decided to forgive and free the 15 even though Britain was not “brave enough” to admit they strayed into Iran’s territory.
The standoff, which began when Tehran seized the 15 in the Shatt al-Arab waterway between Iraq and Iran on March 23, raised international tension and rattled financial markets.
The dispute centered on where the Britons were when they were seized. Britain says they were in Iraqi waters on a routine U.N. mission. Tehran says they strayed into its territorial waters.