The Bush administration decided this week that it will hold five seized alleged Iranian intelligence agents for several more weeks, at least, instead of freeing them quickly in the aftermath of last week's release of 15 British military personnel who had been taken by Iran, US officials said Friday.
Vice President Dick Cheney's foreign policy advisers won an internal administration tussle over what to do with the men, US officials confirmed on condition of anonymity. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had argued for a quicker release but was overruled, partly so as not to make the release appear part of a deal involving the British, the sources said.
The United States has held the five since they were seized in January under disputed circumstances in northern Iraq. The Bush administration has accused Iran of supplying deadly roadside bombs used against US troops in Iraq and of undermining the fragile democratic government there.
Some US officials have suggested that Iran may have captured the 15 sailors and marines last month partly in hopes that Britain would ask close ally Washington to speed up release of the five. Britain has the second-largest number of troops in Iraq after the United States.