Tehran have told the United States that they will return the ten sailors who are currently being held hostage by Iran in the Gulf, by Wednesday.
Two U.S. Navy vessels were held in Iranian custody on Tuesday as the boats travelled one mile within Iranian territory without permission.
Iranian officials have accused America of attempting to ‘snoop’ around Iranian waters, but agreed to return the sailors aboard the vessels after John F. Kerry spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif about the incident.
Kerry “made the case very strongly” to Zarif that the incident had stemmed from a mechanical problem aboard one of the boats, and that they appeared to have drifted into Iranian territorial waters. Small American naval craft frequently patrol the waters of the Persian Gulf just beyond Iran’s territorial limit.
Zarif asked for more information about the incident, which the State Department later communicated to Iran. Zarif, the official said, “came back and said they were all safe and sound, that nobody was hurt,” and that Iran would “return them promptly.”
“We’re expecting them sometime around sunup,” Iranian time, the official said.
Fars, an Iranian news agency, said the 10 sailors, nine men and one woman, had been arrested and were suspected of “snooping.”
Another U.S. official, noting the Iranian media report, acknowledged that there is more than one power center in Iran but expressed cautious optimism that the sailors would quickly be released.
The incident marks the latest run-in between Iranian and U.S. crews. However, Iran’s Fars news agency said the 10 sailors, nine men and one woman, were arrested and were suspected of “snooping.”In late December, Iranian gunboats fired unguided missiles almost 1,000 yards away from the aircraft carrier the USS Harry S. Truman.
A U.S. defense official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a developing situation, said the U.S. personnel were expected to be freed around 9 a.m. local time. “They will be taken out to international waters by the Iranian Coast Guard and turned over to a U.S. ship,” the official said.
Another U.S. defense official said the small boats may have run out of gas or had mechanical issues and were believed to have been within 12 nautical miles of Iran when they broke down. Many officials stressed, though, that it is unclear exactly what happened.
The vessels, known as riverine command boats, are small and agile and often carry special operations forces into smaller bodies of water.
The U.S. government has been in communication with Iranian authorities, according to a senior defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence issues.
“We have received assurances the sailors will promptly be allowed to continue their journey,” the official said.
A third U.S. defense official said it was too early to say what exactly took place and how the American crew and vessels were “picked up” by Iran. He said the American craft and their crew were taken during the incident to Farsi Island, an Iranian island in the Persian Gulf where Iran maintains a military base.
A senior defense official added that so far there was no indication of hostile intent and that the American crew was being well-treated by the Iranian government.
“In some ways this has been very professional,” the official said.
Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter was updated throughout the afternoon about the incident and spoke with Secretary of State John F. Kerry and national security adviser Susan E. Rice.
In recent weeks, U.S. lawmakers have called for increased sanctions on Iran after the country tested two ballistic missiles in recent months. Since the tests, President Hassan Rouhani vowed to expand the country’s ballistic missile program.
Even though details about the incident are sparse, former Florida governor Jeb Bush has already weighed in.
If our sailors aren’t coming home yet, they need to be now. No more bargaining. Obama’s humiliatingly weak Iran policy is exposed again.
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) January 12, 2016