Britain turns up the heat on Iran over sailors

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett says diplomatic activity with Iran has entered a new phase.

March 29, 2007, Thursday/ 18:52:00
Britain on Wednesday presented evidence it said showed the 15 British naval personnel were captured in Iraqi waters and turned up the pressure by halting official contacts with Iran.

Iran insisted the UK marines and sailors were inside Iranian waters and said the governments of both countries could settle the matter through "close cooperation." Britain's Foreign Office said until all the detainees were returned it would halt all official visits between the two countries, suspend the issue of visas to Iranian officials and suspend support for events such as trade missions. British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said diplomatic activity had entered a new phase.

Britain on Wednesday presented evidence it said showed the 15 British naval personnel were captured in Iraqi waters and turned up the pressure by halting official contacts with Iran. Iran insisted the UK marines and sailors were inside Iranian waters and said the governments of both countries could settle the matter through "close cooperation." Britain's Foreign Office said until all the detainees were returned it would halt all official visits between the two countries, suspend the issue of visas to Iranian officials and suspend support for events such as trade missions.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said diplomatic activity had entered a new phase and Britain would focus all its dealings with Iran on resolving the crisis. "We will therefore be imposing a freeze on all other official bilateral business with Iran until this situation is resolved," she told parliament. Oil prices jumped by $5 overnight to more than $68 a barrel before they settled back to around $64. Gold jumped to a four-week high on safe-haven buying before prices eased. Britain's Defense Ministry said global positioning data showed the British sailors and marines were 1.7 nautical miles within Iraqi waters when they were captured by Iranian gunboats near the waterway that separates Iran and Iraq. "The boats remained throughout well within Iraqi territorial waters," Britain's Deputy Chief of Defense Staff, Vice Admiral Charles Style, told a news conference. The crisis coincides with a UN Security Council resolution passed at the weekend tightening sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

Wrong and illegal

Prime Minister Tony Blair said the detention of the sailors was "wrong and illegal." The Foreign Office said the Iranian ambassador was summoned for a fifth meeting on Wednesday. The European Union backed Britain. Angela Merkel, chancellor of the bloc's president Germany, said the EU extended its "absolute support and solidarity." US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns called Iran's behavior reprehensible. "We and all the other allies and many other countries that aren't even allied to Britain around the world think this is odious behavior on the part of the Iranian authorities," he told BBC television. Iran's embassy in London said the British sailors and marines were 0.5 km inside Iranian waters at the time and said it had given that data to Britain. 


Iranian TV broadcasts footage of detained sailors

Iranian state television showed video footage Wednesday of a British servicewoman and a group of seized British sailors and marines. The video showed the sailors and marines eating. The woman, 26-year-old Faye Turney, was shown wearing a white tunic with a black headscarf draped loosely over her hair. "Obviously we trespassed into their waters," Turney said on the footage broadcast by Al-Alam, an Arabic-language, Iranian state-run television station that is carried across the Middle East by satellite. "They were very friendly and very hospitable, very thoughtful, nice people. They explained to us why we've been arrested, there was no harm, no aggression," she said. Tehran AP

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