March 31, 2007 / 12:27 PM / 12 years ago

Waite offers to go to Iran for captives

LONDON (Reuters) - Negotiator Terry Waite, who survived almost five years as a hostage, offered to travel to Iran on Saturday to help free the 15 British naval personnel being held in Tehran.

Waite, who was a hostage of the Islamic Jihad militant group in Lebanon from 1987-1991, told Sky TV he would travel to Tehran on a humanitarian mission to try to negotiate their release.

“At the moment, we seem to be getting into a situation that is building up into greater and greater crisis,” he told Sky.

Britain and its U.S. and European allies have demanded the immediate release of the 14 men and one woman captured in the Gulf on March 23. Britain says the sailors were patrolling Iraqi waters but Iran says they strayed into its territory.

Waite said Iran had been “vilified” by the West in recent years, but that having respect for the Islamic country would be important in securing the Britons’ release.

“I don’t think one needs to be afraid of these people, but one does need to have respect for their point of view, whether you agree with it or not, and at least be prepared to enter into a sensible discussion,” he said.

Waite, who was acting as envoy for the archbishop of Canterbury when he was abducted 20 years ago, also helped free British detainees accused of engaging in espionage by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in the 1980s.

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