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Britain Presses Demand for Sailors' Release in Standoff with Iran

29 March 2007

Britain is pressing its demand for the immediate release of 15 sailors and marines, seized by Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces last Friday, while Tehran is warning of delays and says an apology would help speed up the process. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London on the diplomatic standoff.

A day after British officials went public with demands and details of last Friday's seizure of 15 Royal Navy sailors and marines, the diplomatic standoff between London and Tehran continues.

British Foreign Office spokesman Barry Marston tells VOA the government's demands have not changed.

"It is a matter of time, but the only solution is for Iran to unconditionally release all of these 15 sailors," he said.

There is no indication at this point Iran is ready to comply. On Thursday, senior Iranian government member Ali Larijani dashed hopes that the only woman sailor in the group would soon be released. Larijani hinted at delays and warned that British threats could result in the case taking a legal path, meaning presumably the naval crew could face trial in Iran.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Tony Blair made clear his government was stepping up the pressure.

"It is now time to ratchet up the diplomatic and international pressure in order to make sure the Iranian government understands their total isolation on this issue," he said.

As part of that campaign, a senior British military official released map coordinates of the sailors' location, showing, he said, that that they were in Iraqi, not Iranian territorial waters when they were seized.

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett announced that Britain would freeze all bilateral dealings with Iran, except those pertaining to gaining the sailors' release.

But there has also been quiet diplomacy - directly with Iranian officials as well as with Gulf states, Turkey, European partners - as British officials explain, with anyone who might have some influence on Iran. And discussions are under way about taking the issue to the U.N. Security Council.

"There's a whole number of further things we can be doing," said Foreign Office spokesman Barry Marston. "As I say though, we see no need to escalate or ratchet up the climate of this issue. We would like this to be resolved as simply as possible."

Iranian officials have said an apology from Britain for straying into Iranian waters could help resolve the crisis. However, an apology is not likely. British officials continue to insist their boats and crew were in Iraqi waters. But Iran insisted again on Thursday they had strayed into Iranian waters.

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