|Iran president pardons UK sailors
Story Highlights• Iran's President Ahmadinejad says 15 UK detainees to be pardoned and freed
• Ahmadinejad presents three border guards with medals for bravery
• Ahmadinejad says 15 sailors and marines violated Iran's territorial waters
TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he will pardon and set free 15 British sailors and marines being held in Iranian custody.
Speaking at a news conference on the diplomatic crisis, Ahmadinejad said the 15 detainees had violated the country's territorial waters and praised the border guards who captured them, honoring three men with medals for bravery.
"I thank the border guards who bravely protect our borders and also arrested the violators, and I grant them the bravery medal to their commander," Ahmadinejad said.
Ahmadinejad was speaking after a senior Iranian official on Wednesday welcomed UK efforts to negotiate the release of the marines and sailors.
Iran's parliament speaker Gholamali Haddadadel told an Iranian state broadcaster's Web site that British efforts to negotiate the detainees' release were "appropriate."
"The British are trying to solve the issue of their arrested soldiers with negotiations and this is appropriate action," Haddadadel was quoted as saying.
But he added: "The British should agree to their mistake and change their behavior of before."
Haddadadel is considered an influential figure within Iran because of his connections with the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to whom he is related by marriage.
Meanwhile a spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed late on Tuesday that diplomatic moves had been made towards Tehran to secure the release of the 15 military personnel.
"The prime minister remains committed to resolving this by diplomatic means," the Downing Street spokeswoman said.
"The UK has proposed direct bilateral discussions and awaits an Iranian response on when these can begin."
On Tuesday Blair described the next two days as being "fairly critical" in an interview with a Scottish radio station and welcomed comments by Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security, that Iran saw "no need" to put the 15 on trial.
"The most important thing is to get these people back," Blair told Glasgow-based Real Radio.
Larijani also told Iranian state TV on Tuesday that the two countries' foreign ministries had held talks about the standoff for the first time. (Watch how tempers have cooled in diplomatic dispute)
But Larijani told Britain's Channel 4 television that Britain must admit its military personnel intruded into Iranian territorial waters and "guarantee this violation would not be committed again."
Britain insists the sailors and marines were well inside Iraqi waters when Iran captured them on March 23.
In addition to demanding their release, Britain also wants consular access to the detainees, whose location is unknown.
Iran has released several videos showing the 14 men and one woman in which they appeared to be in good health. Iran also released videotaped confessions from four of the sailors -- including the woman, Faye Turney. (Watch the two crew members describe their 'intrusion')
Britain said the confessions were coerced and expressed its outrage at the videos' release.
The newest images, published Tuesday by the Iranian news agency Fars, show crew members talking in a group and playing a game.
It was not immediately clear if new stills were a breach of Tehran's earlier suggestion that no more images would be published.
A U.S. military official said Washington officials were considering a request made by Iran to allow Iranian representatives access to the five detained Iranians captured early January by U.S. forces during a military raid in northern Iraq. "The request has been made but nothing has been approved," the official told CNN on Wednesday. (Iraq pressing U.S. to release Iranians)
Iranian officials in Kish Island said a U.S. inquiry into an American citizen who has been missing for several weeks in southern Iran was made for "political purposes," according to IRNA, Iran's state-run news agency.
Syria is undertaking "quiet diplomacy" between Iran and Britain to "resolve the row over the British sailors," the country's foreign minister Walid al-Moallem told Kuwait's state-run newspaper Al-Anba. The report, which was published Wednesday, comes as a top U.S. official, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is in the Syrian capital to meet with President Bashar al-Assad.
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