Iran thanks US for naval rescue operation

13 Iranians redeemed in Arabian Sea; rescue conducted by same aircraft carrier group Iran warned away from Gulf.

Iranian-flagged fishing dhow  in Arabian Sea R 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian-flagged fishing dhow in Arabian Sea R 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a rare display of praise for the West, Iran on Saturday applauded the US's rescue of 13 Iranians held hostage for weeks by pirates in the Arabian Sea, calling it a "humanitarian and positive" act.The rescue operation took place on Thursday by the same US aircraft carrier group that Iran warned not to return to the Gulf.
RELATED:'Iran ready to renew nuclear talks with powers'Speaking with Iran's Arabic-language broadcaster Al-Alam, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that  "we consider the actions of the US forces in saving the lives of Iranian seamen to be a humanitarian and positive act and we welcome such behavior."
"We think all nations should display such behavior," AFP quoted him as saying.
Forces with the USS John C. Stennis carrier strike group received a distress call from the master of the Al Molai, an Iranian-flagged fishing vessel, who said he was being held captive by pirates. The US forces also detected a suspected pirate skiff alongside the Al Molai. The pirates had apparently been using the vessel as a "mother ship" to conduct operations.
"The Al Molai had been taken over by pirates for roughly the last 40-45 days," Josh Schminky, a Navy criminal investigative service agent aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd, said in a statement.
"They were held hostage, with limited rations, and we believe were forced against their will to assist the pirates with other piracy operations," he said.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Captain John Kirby said the crew of 15 pirates, all believed to be Somalis, were now being detained aboard the Stennis.
The United States does not have formal diplomatic relations with Tehran, and the State Department said there had been no official communication with Iran about the rescue, which it described as a "humanitarian gesture."
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing that the United States was reviewing options for prosecuting the pirates.
"We're consulting with international partners. You know, sadly, this is not a new thing. We have more than 1,000 pirates who've been picked up at sea who are under prosecution in some 20 countries. So this is always a question of where to send them and who will do the prosecution," she said.
Iran ratcheted up tensions earlier this week by threatening to take action if the Stennis returned to the Gulf after departing on December 27.
Army chief Major General Ataollah Salehi said on Tuesday: "I recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf ... we are not in the habit of warning more than once."
Iran announced plans on Friday to hold new naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz next month, the latest in a series of forceful gestures in the world's most important oil shipping lane.
It was not clear whether Iran's navy was aware of the rescue operation but the freed Iranian hostages, now on their way back home, had thanked the US crew, the Navy said.
"The captain of the Al Molai expressed his sincere gratitude that we came to assist them. He was afraid that without our help, they could have been there for months," said Schminky.
Reuters contributed to this report