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Britain To Ratchet Up Pressure On Iran In Standoff Over Sailors

UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett.
By Staff Writers
London (AFP) Mar 28, 2007
Britain was likely to ratchet up the pressure on Iran Wednesday as Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett briefs lawmakers on the mounting crisis involving 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran.

In what may be the "different phase" of the dispute that Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke of on Tuesday, officials are also set to give a briefing presenting evidence of Britain's certainty that the sailors were in Iraqi waters when Iran captured them last Friday, British newspapers reported.

Britain insists that the eight sailors and seven marines held by Iran were conducting "routine" anti-smuggling operations when they were seized at gunpoint in the Shatt al-Arab waterway in the north of the Gulf on Friday.

Iran says they had intruded into Iranian waters, though that claim is contested by Iraq.

Beckett had been visiting Turkey on Tuesday, but cut the official trip short in order to report to parliament, after hitting a dead end in her talks with her Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki.

A Foreign Office spokesman said Beckett "spoke in very robust terms" with Mottaki.

Meanwhile, The Guardian and The Sun reported that British officials will present evidence on Wednesday backing up their claims that the sailors were in Iraqi territorial waters.

According to The Guardian, the evidence is to include maps, detailed co-ordinates, and photographs.

Blair's official spokesman said on Tuesday that London was "utterly certain" that the sailors were in Iraqi waters.

"So far, we haven't made explicit why we know that because we don't want to escalate this.

But he added: "We may come to the stage where we have to become more explicit about why we know this."

Blair said Britain was trying to "pursue this through the diplomatic channels and make the Iranian government understand these people have to be released.

"If not, then this will move into a different phase," he added in an interview with GMTV television.

His spokesman said London was not looking to escalate the stand-off and would prefer a diplomatic solution, insisting that Britain was not considering military action or throwing out Iran's ambassador.

However in Tehran, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini denounced the British remarks.

"The media campaigns and provocative ... remarks regarding the violation of Iranian territorial waters by the British sailors are doing nothing to help settle the affair," he said.

"The British service personnel entered Iranian waters illegally and the case will follow its legal and judicial course."

Hosseini said that British diplomats would be able to meet the 15, who include one woman, once investigators had completed questioning them about what they had been doing in Iranian waters.

The sole woman among 15 British sailors held captive by Iran said in an interview with the BBC before their seizure that she knew she could "go to war at any time," in footage aired by the broadcaster on Tuesday.

Speaking to a BBC reporter aboard the HMS Cornwall, Faye Turney said: "My parents made sure that I was under no illusions that I could and can go to war at any time, and that's the choice I made."

Citing unnamed sources, the BBC said the crew were being grilled at a Revolutionary Guards base in Tehran to find out if they were on an intelligence-gathering mission.

The investigation involved examining tracking equipment to determine exactly where the sailors were seized.

The European Union has demanded the sailors' release and the United States has expressed its "concern and outrage."

The German foreign ministry said on Tuesday it had called in the Iranian ambassador to Berlin and reiterated a demand for the immediate release of the naval personnel.

The crisis over the detentions comes as concerns also rise over Iran's disputed nuclear programme. Delivered-To: 17-nick@spacedaily.com Delivered-To: 17-afptest@spacedaily.com Date: Wed, 28 Mar 2007 04:24:22 +0200 (METDST) From: topic@afp.com X-Authentication-Warning: mmd1.par.afp.com: topic set sender to topic@afp.com using -f To: afptest@spacedaily.com Subject: AFP-MAIL : Iran-Britain-military Reply-To: service.topic@afp.com

Iran-Britain-military

Britain to ratchet up pressure on Iran in standoff over sailors

=(GRAPHIC+PICTURE)=

LONDON, March 28, 2007 (AFP) - Britain was likely to ratchet up the pressure on Iran Wednesday as Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett briefs lawmakers on the mounting crisis involving 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran.

In what may be the "different phase" of the dispute that Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke of on Tuesday, officials are also set to give a briefing presenting evidence of Britain's certainty that the sailors were in Iraqi waters when Iran captured them last Friday, British newspapers reported.

Britain insists that the eight sailors and seven marines held by Iran were conducting "routine" anti-smuggling operations when they were seized at gunpoint in the Shatt al-Arab waterway in the north of the Gulf on Friday.

Iran says they had intruded into Iranian waters, though that claim is contested by Iraq.

Beckett had been visiting Turkey on Tuesday, but cut the official trip short in order to report to parliament, after hitting a dead end in her talks with her Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki.

A Foreign Office spokesman said Beckett "spoke in very robust terms" with Mottaki.

Meanwhile, The Guardian and The Sun reported that British officials will present evidence on Wednesday backing up their claims that the sailors were in Iraqi territorial waters.

According to The Guardian, the evidence is to include maps, detailed co-ordinates, and photographs.

Blair's official spokesman said on Tuesday that London was "utterly certain" that the sailors were in Iraqi waters.

"So far, we haven't made explicit why we know that because we don't want to escalate this.

But he added: "We may come to the stage where we have to become more explicit about why we know this."

Blair said Britain was trying to "pursue this through the diplomatic channels and make the Iranian government understand these people have to be released.

"If not, then this will move into a different phase," he added in an interview with GMTV television.

His spokesman said London was not looking to escalate the stand-off and would prefer a diplomatic solution, insisting that Britain was not considering military action or throwing out Iran's ambassador.

However in Tehran, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini denounced the British remarks.

"The media campaigns and provocative ... remarks regarding the violation of Iranian territorial waters by the British sailors are doing nothing to help settle the affair," he said.

"The British service personnel entered Iranian waters illegally and the case will follow its legal and judicial course."

Hosseini said that British diplomats would be able to meet the 15, who include one woman, once investigators had completed questioning them about what they had been doing in Iranian waters.

The sole woman among 15 British sailors held captive by Iran said in an interview with the BBC before their seizure that she knew she could "go to war at any time," in footage aired by the broadcaster on Tuesday.

Speaking to a BBC reporter aboard the HMS Cornwall, Faye Turney said: "My parents made sure that I was under no illusions that I could and can go to war at any time, and that's the choice I made."

Citing unnamed sources, the BBC said the crew were being grilled at a Revolutionary Guards base in Tehran to find out if they were on an intelligence-gathering mission.

The investigation involved examining tracking equipment to determine exactly where the sailors were seized.

The European Union has demanded the sailors' release and the United States has expressed its "concern and outrage."

The German foreign ministry said on Tuesday it had called in the Iranian ambassador to Berlin and reiterated a demand for the immediate release of the naval personnel.

The crisis over the detentions comes as concerns also rise over Iran's disputed nuclear programme.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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