Aboul Gheit hopes sailors' release heralds 'new spirit' between Iran and West

Egyptian foreign minister says move presents possibility for a political settlement over nuclear program.

Aboul Gheit 298 (photo credit: AP [file])
Aboul Gheit 298
(photo credit: AP [file])
Egypt's foreign minister said Iran's decision to release 15 British sailors this week will hopefully herald a "new spirit" between the Islamic Republic and the West, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported Saturday. The sailors, captured in the Persian Gulf on March 23, were freed Wednesday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called their release a gift to Britain. Teheran says the service members were detained in its waters, while London insists they were in Iraqi waters. "Logic says this could be a start of easing the confrontation," Ahmed Aboul Gheit told the Al-Rai newspaper in an interview in Cairo. Iran is currently at odds with the West over its nuclear program and suspected support for Shiite militias in Iraq. Iran denies charges by the West it wants to make nuclear weapons, insisting its program is for peaceful purposes, but the UN Security Council voted last month to impose new and tougher sanctions on Iran because of its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment. Aboul Gheit said he saw a "big possibility for a political settlement" over Iran's disputed nuclear program and advised against any sort of military response. The US has two aircraft carrier groups off Iran's coast, its largest show of force in the region since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Asked if Wednesday's release was part of a "deal" whereby the US would free Iranians it was holding in Iraq, Aboul Gheit said: "Not a deal, maybe a special understanding for releasing detained individuals on both sides." "But what is important," he added, "is that this spirit, which we hope will be a new spirit, continues." Although all sides denied any sort of deal, the release came one day after a senior Iranian diplomat, held for two months in Iraq, was set free. Jalal Sharafi was seized in February by uniformed gunmen in Baghdad. Iran has blamed the US for the diplomat's abduction, but the Americans have denied these accusations. Also, the release immediately followed word by the US military that it had allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit five Iranians captured by US forces in Iraq in January under disputed circumstances. The US has said it is still considering an Iranian government request to visit the five.