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Iran's release of U.S. Navy sailors greeted with relief

Diffusing a potential crisis, Iran released ten U.S. Navy sailors Wednesday who were detained when their boats sailed into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf.

In video released by Iranian television, the boarding of the two Navy boats seems peaceful enough. But other footage tells a different story -- the Navy crewmen look like they are being held prisoner. Then the lieutenant in charge is asked what the boats were doing.

"It was a mistake," the sailor says. "That was our fault and we apologize for our mistake."

That contrasts starkly with Vice President Joe Biden's account on "CBS This Morning," that one of the boats had engine failure and drifted into Iranian territory, where they were, in his words, "rescued."

"There's no apology. There's nothing to apologize for," Biden said. "When you have a problem with the boat, (do) you apologize the boat had a problem? No. And there was no looking for any apology."

The crew was held for about 16 hours and U.S. Navy doctors have now examined them and found no evidence of mistreatment.

The incident came to a quick and satisfactory end, which as Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out, is saying something when it comes to Iran.

"I think we can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago," Kerry said.

Iran's foreign minister tweeted he was "happy to see dialog and respect, not threats and impetuousness, swiftly resolved the sailor's episode."

What really may have resolved it is Iran's desire not to derail the nuclear deal between the two countries. As part of that deal, the U.S. is expected to begin releasing about $100 billion in frozen Iranian assets in the next few days.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.