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Brits' release not tied to detainees

WASHINGTON, April 5 (UPI) -- The White House denies any linkage between Iran's release of captive British service personnel and Iranians being held by the U.S. in Iraq.

The seizure by Iran of 15 British sailors and Marines March 23 in the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway, and their release this week, was "a process between the United Kingdom and Iran," spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

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The only role the United States played during the standoff between London and Tehran, he said, "was a role of support to Prime Minister (Tony) Blair."

U.S. forces in Iraq seized six Iranians in January in the northern city of Erbil, who were suspected of aiding anti-coalition insurgents. Five of those seized were believed to be members of the elite al-Quds force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. The sixth person detained was eventually released.

U.S. officials accuse Iran, through its Quds force, of having supplied sophisticated explosive devices to insurgents in Iraq.

Iran has said the five are diplomats and wants them released.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the subject of their detention came up informally last month during multilateral discussions in Baghdad on the Iraq security situation, which were attended by both Iranian and U.S. officials.

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In Baghdad Thursday, U.S. Army spokesman Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, said an informal request by the Iranians to visit the detainees was being assessed.

He did not indicate there was any linkage between the release of the Britons and the situation with the Iranians in U.S. custody, but Johndroe was insistant there wasn't any.

"... If you are suggesting, as some reports have run, that there is any linkage between any other release or any other people held in detention, there have been none," Johndroe said during a briefing with the media in Crawford.

President Bush is spending the Easter weekend at his ranch in Crawford.

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