Washington: The US rejected any suggestion on 30 March that 15 British naval personnel detained by Iran for the past week could be swapped for five Iranian officials held by US forces in Iraq since January.
A State Department spokesman also asserted that the capture of the British sailors and marines a week ago may have been an attempt by Iran to deflect attention from international moves to curb Tehran’s suspected nuclear weapons programme.
“There have been some anonymous Iranian sources that have sought to draw the United States into this by suggesting a swap of personnel,” spokesman Sean McCormack said.
“We would reject out of hand any suggestion by the Iranian sources that there’s any linkage between these issues or linkage of this issue with any other issue,” McCormack said.
The spokesman said he was referring to press reports quoting unnamed Iranians and that to his knowledge there had been no official Iranian approach concerning a possible prisoner swap.
The five Iranians, allegedly members of the elite al-Quds Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, were detained by US forces in January during a raid on an Iranian office in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.
US officials have said computers and other equipment seized during the raid provided information linking the Iranians to networks that supplied technology and material to Iraqi insurgents to help them carry out attacks on US forces.
Iran says it seized the British sailors for being illegally in Iranian waters. Britain says they were carrying out anti-smuggling operations in Iraqi waters and has demanded their immediate release.
McCormack suggested Iran had ulterior motives for nabbing the 15 Britons.
“It stands to reason that they would like to use it as a means of distracting the rest of the world from Iran’s current set of problems,” he said.
He specifically mentioned the recent adoption by the UN Security Council of a second sanctions resolution against Iran over its refusal to suspend nuclear fuel reprocessing activities the major powers fear are aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
Iran has also come under pressure for its support of Shiite militants in Iraq and Lebanon as well as Palestinian rejectionist groups.
“The international community is not going to stand for the Iranian govermnmnent trying to use this issue to distract the rest of the world from the situation in which Iran finds itself vis-a-vis their nuclear program or other behaviors around the Middle East,” McCormack said.