Envoy will meet 5 Iranian detainees

US forces arrested the five for supplying Iraqi insurgents with money and arms.

US troops iraq 88 (photo credit: )
US troops iraq 88
(photo credit: )
Iran's state media reported Wednesday that an Iranian envoy will be allowed to meet five Iranians detained by US forces in northern Iraq since January - a possible sign of further progress toward ending a British-Iranian standoff. The report appeared as Britain and Iran were entering a sensitive phase in the efforts to free 15 British sailors and marines captured by the Iranians last month in disputed waters of the Persian Gulf. A separate Iranian diplomat seized two months ago by uniformed gunmen in Iraq was released and returned Tuesday to Teheran. Iran had blamed the US for the abduction, a charge American authorities denied. The detention of the five other Iranians occurred in January in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish self-governing region in northern Iraq. Iraqi Kurds, like the country's Shi'ites, maintain close ties with Shi'ite-dominated Iran, despite their warm relationship with the US - and they had been upset over the arrests in their own capital. Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, himself a Kurd, told The Associated Press that the case of the five detained Iranians had no connection with that of the British sailors and marines. However, the moves on that case and the release of the Iranian diplomat raised the possibility that a possible swap was in the works. Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency said an Iranian envoy would be allowed to meet with the five detained Iranians but gave no further details. In Baghdad, US Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said he could not comment on the IRNA report but added that Iran "has asked us to expedite our investigation" into the arrests of the people. US troops detained the five Iranians on January 11, accusing them of links to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard network that was supplying money and weapons to insurgents in Iraq.