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US not to release Iranians held in Iraq: Gates

The five are accused of providing material support to militants responsible for attacks on US troops.

world Updated: Apr 06, 2007 09:28 IST

The US military has no plans to release five Iranians held in Iraq who are accused of providing material support to militants responsible for attacks on US troops, said US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

"There's no inclination right now to let them go," Gates said on Thursday.

The US military arrested the five men, accusing them of being members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard and supporting violence in Iraq, in northern Iraq in January. Iran says they were consulate officers who were not involved in hostile activities.

The US military has allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the detainees, said General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Iran has requested access to the individuals, a possibility advocated by the Iraqi government that Gates did not rule out.

"Iraqi government officials and US officials are discussing if there's some way, perhaps, that there could be some kind of Iranian access to them," Gates said.

There has been speculation that the holding of the alleged Iranian agents in Iraq was Tehran's motivation for seizing 15 British sailors two weeks ago. The 14 men and one woman were released and returned to Britain on Thursday.

The US has played down any connection between the two cases. US President George W Bush had previously said that he would not trade the Iranians for the release of the British sailors.

Gates said he ordered a review of US naval procedures in the Gulf to ensure they are properly protected against any potential Iranian attempts to take US sailors hostage.