Reuters – 2007-04-09 23:28:11
TEHERAN (April 8, 2007) — Iran has warned neighboring Iraq that its failure to secure the release of five Iranians detained there by U.S. forces could impair Tehran’s cooperation with Baghdad, a senior official was quoted on Sunday as saying.
Washington says the five men, detained in January in northern Iraq, are linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and were backing militants. Iran insists they are diplomats, wants them freed and has requested access.
“We are serious about the way we will confront those behind the arrest of the Iranian diplomats in Iraq,” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency, seen as close to the Revolutionary Guards.
“On Friday I sent a letter to the Iraqi foreign minister and other officials in Iraq and pointed out that their efforts over the release of the diplomats have had no results and I emphasized that if this situation continues we will have problems in taking other steps to help Iraq,” he said.
Mottaki’s Iraqi counterpart, Hoshiyar Zebari, said he had not received any letter. He insisted his government was working hard to secure the release of the five. “They know very well that the Iraqi government has done, and is doing, its best to try to facilitate their release. We still have not received any confirmation from the Americans that they will release them. But we hope that this will not be a reason to disturb our bilateral relations,” he told Reuters in Baghdad.
Earlier on Sunday, a senior adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Iran had refused to allow a plane carrying the Iraqi leader on a trip to Asia to cross its air space overnight.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini played down the incident at a regular news conference on Sunday and it was not clear whether it was linked to Mottaki’s warning.
Mottaki, whose comments were originally made to an Iranian television channel, added that Iran had requested the help of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over the arrested Iranians.
The U.S. military has said it is considering an Iranian request to visit the men. An International Committee of the Red Cross team has visited the detained Iranians twice, a U.S. military official said on Friday.
(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Baghdad)
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