Blair calls Iran’s capture of sailors ‘fundamental’ issue
LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Iran on Sunday that the fate of 15 British sailors and marines seized off the Iraqi coast was a “fundamental” issue for his government, as Iran suggested the group may be put on trial for violating its waters.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett spoke by telephone with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki late Sunday, and reiterated her country’s stance that the British sailors and marines were operating in Iraqi waters as they searched for smugglers at sea.
She asked that British diplomats be allowed to meet with the service members and demanded their safe return, the Foreign Office said. In Jerusalem, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also called for their release.
At a European summit in Berlin, Blair said Iran’s claim that the sailors had crossed into Iranian territorial waters “is simply not true.”
“I want to get (the situation) resolved in as easy and diplomatic a way as possible,” Blair said, but added he hoped the Iranians “understood how fundamental an issue this is for the British government.”
On a visit to the Middle East, Rice said the sailors and marines should be released immediately and said “we all fully trust the British” that they were not in Iranian waters when they were seized Friday.
But the Iranians also stuck by their view that the British had violated Iranian territory.
In New York, Mottaki said his government was considering charges against the British sailors and marines.
“The Iranian authorities intercepted these sailors and marines in Iranian waters. and detained them in Iranian waters. This has happened in the past, as well,” Mottaki said in Persian through a translator.
“The charge against them is illegal entrance into Iranian waters,” Mottaki said. “In terms of legal issues, it’s under investigation.”
Mottaki declined to provide the exact coordinates of where the Britons were seized, saying this “very detailed information has been submitted to the representatives of the United Kingdom.”
A spokesman for Britain’s defense ministry said they were not releasing the coordinates.
Britain and the United States have said the sailors and marines had just completed a search of a civilian vessel in the Iraqi part of the Shatt al-Arab waterway when they were intercepted by the Iranian navy.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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