Syria Says It Played Role in Release of British Detainees

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Syria's information minister and foreign minister said Wednesday that Damascus had played a key role in resolving the standoff over the 15 British sailors held by Iran.

Information Minister Mohsen Bilal said that Syria had been asked "to help positively in the issue of British sailors" since their March 23 seizure by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard navy in the Persian Gulf waters.

"Syrian efforts and the Iranian willingness culminated with the release of the British sailors," Bilal said but did not provide details.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told reporters that "Syria exercised a sort of quiet diplomacy to solve this problem and encourage dialogue between the two parties," referring to Britain and Iran.

Al-Moallem did not elaborate on details of the Syrian mediation. He spoke at the Damascus international airport before the departure of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for Saudi Arabia.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced in Tehran on Wednesday that the 15 member British crew would be freed, and Iranian state television showed some of the sailors and marines -- including Leading Seaman Faye Turney, the only woman among the 15 -- speaking to the Iranian leader at the steps of the presidential palace.

In London, Sky News reported that Syria and Qatar played a key role in resolving the crisis with Iran.

Earlier Wednesday, Al-Moallem was quoted as saying by the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Anba in an interview in Damascus that the case needed "quiet diplomacy" and that "Syria was undertaking such quiet diplomacy" between Iran and Britain. Iran has claimed the Britons strayed into its waters, but Britain insisted they were in Iraqi waters.

Syria has long been the Arab country closest to Iran, a non-Arab state. The two countries have moved toward each other as they were shunned by the United States and the European Union for their alleged interference in Iraq and Lebanon, and their support of Palestinian militant groups regarded as terrorist in the West.

There were no immediate details on Qatar's involvement in the case of the British sailors.