Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Syria played role in resolving U.K.-Iran dispute, officials say

AP 2 hours, 3 minutes ago

Syria: We helped in Iran-Britain dispute

Syria played a key role in resolving the standoff over the 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran, two government officials said Wednesday.

"Syrian efforts and the Iranian willingness culminated with the release of the British sailors," said Information Minister Mohsen Bilal.

He said Syria had been asked "to help positively in the issue of British" crew members since their March 23 seizure by Iran in the Persian Gulf.

He did not elaborate.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told reporters that "Syria exercised a sort of quiet diplomacy to solve this problem and encourage dialogue" between Britain and Iran.

Al-Moallem, who also did not give any details on the Syrian mediation, spoke at Damascus international airport before the departure of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record) for Saudi Arabia.

A Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said Iran's decision to release the Britons was "right," and that Syria "sees it as an example of the positive results for adopting dialogue and diplomacy among states."

Syria has long been the Arab country with the closest ties to Iran, a non-Arab state. The two have moved toward each other as they were shunned by the United States and the European Union for their alleged interference in Iraq and Lebanon, and their support of Palestinian militant groups regarded as terrorist in the West.

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