Iranian state TV released a video Wednesday of a U.S. sailor apologizing for crossing into the country’s territorial waters. The apology was publicized hours after Vice President Joe Biden said the U.S. did not apologize.
“It was a mistake, it was our fault, and we apologize for our mistake,” the unnamed sailor said while being held in Iranian custody.
The sailor and nine others were released Wednesday after being held overnight in Iran. Units of the Revolutionary Guard seized two U.S. Navy boats on Tuesday in a stretch of the Persian Gulf after one boat suffered a mechnical problem. U.S. officials have not said if the boats entered Iranian waters.
Biden said Iran did not ask for and did not receive an apology from the U.S.
“There was nothing to apologize for,” Biden told CBS News. “When you have a problem with the boat you apologize the boat had a problem? No, and there was no looking for any apology. This was just standard nautical practice.”
Prior to broadcasting the sailor’s apology, Secretary of State John Kerry thanked Iran.
“I want to thank the Iranian authorities for their cooperation and quick response. These are always situations which everybody here knows have an ability, if not properly guided, to get out of control,” he said.
As The Daily Beast’s David Axe notes, this is not the first time Iran has held foreign sailors. In April 2015, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps troops seized the Danish-chartered merchant ship Maersk Tigris and its 24 crew members and held them for several days over what Iran alleged was a legal dispute between the Danish firm and an Iranian company.
In 2007, for example, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps captured 15 U.K. Royal Navy sailors in the northern Persian Gulf. Insisting the sailors were in Iranian waters—a claim London denied—the Revolutionary Guard troops held the British sailors for nearly two weeks.
Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter criticized the Obama administration’s “apologetic foreign policy.”
“Iranians are going to use this for massive propaganda,” Hunter told The Daily Beast. “This is a state sponsor of terror that has been sanctioned by the entire Western world. There are now going to run commercials on their TV of sailors apologizing. There is no way that they should apologize.”
Hunter also said the U.S. military would have to change its “tactics, techniques and procedures” due to information Iranians now possess.
The Pentagon’s immediate reaction to the apology was more muted.
“It’s unusual,” one defense official told The Daily Beast. “We wouldn’t do it.”
A senior Pentagon official told The Daily Beast that the sailors are being debriefed in Bahrain. Among the questions being asked is whether the sailor who apologized did so under duress.
U.S. officials were quick to laud the release of the sailors, saying that while being held, the sailors were fed and given blankets. But with the video released by the Iranians, more troubling details emerged. In one clip, the sailors’ hands were on the back of the heads. By midday, the administration sought to mitigate its celebratory statements.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner attempted to reconcile his boss’s earlier show of appreciation to the Iranians with the sailor’s apology. Toner told reporters that “generally speaking, you are not supposed to show images” of troops under such circumstances. “Our initial assessment is that they were treated humanely.”