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Britain Cheers Return of Sailors, Marines


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

A British Airways flight touched down this morning in London, carrying the 15 sailors and marines who'd been held for almost two weeks in Iran. The British crew stepped off the plane in uniform, having boarded it in suits given them in Tehran after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced they would be freed.


He said the crew's release was a gift to the British people, a kind of Easter present. Back on the line from London this morning is our correspondent Rob Gifford. Hello again.


MONTAGNE: Rob, how did they look when they got off the plane?

GIFFORD: Yeah, they did look very smart. They all had their uniforms on. The marines - some of them in their marine uniform and the naval full Royal Navy uniform for the others. They were bearing gifts. As you say, they were given pistachios and handicrafts and all sorts of things by the Iranians before they left. They stepped for a brief photo call on to the tarmac at Heathrow Airport. And then they got onboard to helicopters, which were to take them to a Royal Marine base down in Southwest England in Devon, where they're to be reunited with their families.

MONTAGNE: And also debriefed?


GIFFORD: And debriefed and given a full medical check-up. That's right.

MONTAGNE: Prime Minister Tony Blair commented on the crew's release this morning, as they were landing, basically. What did he have to say?

GIFFORD: He did. Obviously, he welcomed the crew home. It's been a long two weeks I think for him in many ways, as it has for the families of those detained. Interestingly, he did also comment about four British soldiers who were killed this morning in Basra in southern Iraq. And he said that he was not linking Iran specifically to the deaths of these four in the south of Iraq, but he said that it's true that Iran has been backing terrorism inside Iraq. So he really was pointing out what a very complex situation this is, and just because this issue with the captives has been resolved by no means indicates that everything between London and Tehran is okay.

MONTAGNE: Now, how did Blair come out of this? He took a diplomat - the hard line and the soft line during his two weeks, did he end up - was it humiliation or triumph?

GIFFORD: Well, obviously, he's trying to portray it as triumph. Some of the newspapers this morning are not sure. To be frank, a lot of it is just everyone's caught up a bit in just the joy of getting the captives back. But some people are really questioning whether it was the right thing to do for him to take such a hard line stance at the beginning.

After all, it took 12 or 13 days for this to be resolved. And he took it to the United Nations. He took it to the European Union. And it's really only in the last couple of days that any kind of diplomacy was engaged. And so I think he can claim for himself and for his legacy in his last few months of office that he has managed to resolve it. But I think certainly there are some question marks about how long it took and the way that, in the end, it was resolved.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Rob Gifford in London. Thanks very much.

GIFFORD: Thank you very much, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.