… and you takes your choice. There is virtually something for everybody in the media coverage of the release of the Iranian hostages. But they can't all be right.
President Ahmadinejad announced the release of the 15 British naval personnel like a card player flinging down his hand to scoop the pool. Iran had good cards and played them well.
It made its point about defending its borders, dominated international television with pictures of its prisoners and their "confessions" and, when it perhaps judged that it had got as much as it could expect to out of the confrontation, ended it with a flourish.
Iran will project this as a victory (the medals given publicly to the officers who led the operation was an immediate example) against a country still viewed with suspicion in Iran because of its past interventions.
The surprise release of 15 Royal Navy personnel on the orders of President Ahmadinejad was the result of a fierce debate within the Iranian regime rather than the product of negotiations with Britain.
When the Iranian leader suddenly announced that he was letting the British sailors and marines go, no one was more surprised than the officials involved in securing their freedom at Downing Street, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence.
The British sailors held captive by Iran were told they can fly home, after being released as a 'gift' to Britain – but not before Tehran humiliated them one more time.
The 14 men and one woman were paraded in front of TV cameras and were even asked by a clearly delighted Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 'How are you? So you came on a mandatory vacation?'
The Daily Mail
Wearing broad smiles and shiny suits, the 15 sailors and Marines seized by Iran lined up for a farewell propaganda parade yesterday. Moments earlier, hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had dramatically freed them as an Easter "gift" to Britain.
The slick, stage-managed performance provided the final flourish to a spectacular PR coup for Tehran which left Britain humiliated in the eyes of many. The hostages, held captive for almost a fortnight, are expected to fly home today to the delight of their families and "profound relief" voiced by Tony Blair.
The Herald (Scotland)
The release of the 15 British Navy personnel in Tehran is a triumph for diplomacy. Yet to be completely successful it must now be seized as an opportunity to open genuine talks between London and Tehran. Yesterday the delighted smiles and heartfelt relief of relatives of the captured sailors and marines expressed the positive outcome to an alarming and distressing incident which should never have happened. However, a disturbing mirror image was the smiling satisfaction of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he played out the final moves in this unsavoury display of manipulation for the benefit of the cameras and microphones of the international media.
The Iranians have decided to release the 15 British sailors and Marines they have held hostage for over 12 days. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that he had “pardoned” the British during the celebration of the birth of the prophet, which this year almost coincides with Easter. To the world, he appears to have made a magnanimous gesture.
Good news, of course, but now comes the post mortem. There are many questions to be answered, not the least of which are what did the British give to secure the release of their service members, and will Iran pay a price for their action?
Islamic Republic News Agency:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the decision to release British sailors was made by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a present to the people of Britain.
The president, who was speaking at a press conference here Wednesday, was responding to a question by a western reporter who asked if the release of British sailors had been the result of a deal between the two governments.
President Ahmadinejad rejected the idea of 'compromise or concession' in the issue and stressed that the British naval troopers were released due to Islamic goodwill and a decision made by the Islamic Republic of Iran on the auspicious occasion of the birth anniversary of the Great Prophet of Islam Muhammad (PBUH).
He said," When we do something due to Islamic goodwill, we do not expect to receive any rewards."
Washington cautiously welcomed Wednesday's announcement that Iran was releasing the 15 British soldiers and sailors it has held for nearly two weeks. Vice President Dick Cheney said "it was unfortunate that they were ever taken in the first place."
Associated Press (via The Washington Post):
With the announcement that 15 Britons were going free, Iran's hardline president retook his favorite spot on the international stage - delighting in Tehran's rising power and lecturing Western powers on their misdeeds.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad kept an unusually low profile for most of the international standoff, prompting speculation that he had been sidelined by more pragmatic figures in Iran's government, whose ultimate authority is supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Daily Telegraph:
When fighters from Iran's Revolutionary Guard seized 15 British sailors and marines in the northern Gulf 13 days ago, they ignited a diplomatic crisis in one of the world's most dangerous waterways.
On Tuesday night, two of the most powerful yet anonymous men in their respective countries quietly reached agreement to defuse the tension and free the captives.
Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the Prime Minister's foreign policy adviser, held secret talks with Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's national security council and his country's chief negotiator on nuclear issues. This telephone call between the two officials was the breakthrough encounter.
It makes Tehran look generous rather than grudging, enabled President Ahmadinejad to project a smiley rather than a scowling persona, and may go a long way to remove the sour taste left by the whole incident in the international arena.
In the west, meanwhile, it arguably strengthens the hand of the diplomats in the ceaseless debate with the hawks over what to do about Iran. After all, the doves can say, patient negotiation won the day. After scoring an own goal, Iran can claim to have come out of the game with at least a draw.
This is a possibility everyone's missed - maybe the Iranians, in an effort to show the West how modern they've become, thought they'd put our marines in a house they couldn't escape from and show them each day on television in an Anglo-Iranian Big Brother. Now we've seen all of them, it will be time to start voting them off. The next broadcast will start with a voice telling us: "It's 4.57pm and Faye is still smoking in front of the map."
This could be used to recruit young people into the armed forces in a celebrity culture. Billboards will be put up showing the captives making their statement, with the slogan: "Join the Marines and get your own slot on TV." Maybe a deal can be reached with Ayatollah Khamenei, that the next lot have to perform their statements in a show called "Hostage Academy".