TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's government Saturday welcomed the U.S. Navy's rescue of 13 Iranian fishermen held by pirates, calling it a humanitarian gesture.
U.S. officials announced Friday that the fishermen had been rescued by a U.S. Navy destroyer on Thursday, more than 40 days after their boat was commandeered by suspected Somali pirates in the Arabian Sea. The rescue came just days after Tehran warned the United States to keep the same group of warships out of the Persian Gulf.
"The rescue of Iranian sailors by American forces is considered a humanitarian gesture and we welcome this behavior," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by state TV's Al-Alam Arabic channel.
Iran's hard-line Fars news agency had a different take, calling the rescue operation a Hollywood dramatization of a routine event. The Fars report noted that attacks by Somali pirates in the region are common and said that Iran's navy had itself freed many mariners held by pirates in recent years without seeking to highly publicize it.
Amid escalating tension with Iran over its nuclear program, the Obama administration reveled in delivering Friday's announcement and highlighted the fact that the rescuing ships were the same ones Iran's army chief had just said were no longer welcome in the Persian Gulf.
The semiofficial Fars news agency is considered close to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard military force. Fars reported in April that Iranian naval commandos had driven off pirates attempting to hijack a supertanker off Pakistan's southwestern coast.
Naval forces from several countries patrol shipping lanes in the region in pursuit of Somali pirates.