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Iran Says All British Sailors Have Confessed

Britain said on Monday that it shared Ali Larijani's, the head of the supreme national security council, preference for a diplomatic solution to the standoff, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman telling AFP that Britain shares "his preference for early bilateral discussions."
by Prashant Rao
London (AFP) April 02, 2007
Iran's top security official said on Monday there was "no need" to put 15 captured British naval personnel on trial, stressing that Tehran wanted to find a diplomatic solution to the impasse.

Ali Larijani, the head of the supreme national security council, described the stand-off, which has been ongoing since March 23 when Iran seized the personnel, as "quite resolvable."

"Definitely our priority is to solve the problem through proper diplomatic channels. We are not interested in having this issue get further complicated," Larijani told Britain's Channel Four television.

"We definitely believe this issue can be resolved. And there is no need for any trial."

He also criticised the European Union, claiming it had "started to condemn Iran without knowing the facts" over the group's capture.

Britain said on Monday that it shared Larijani's preference for a diplomatic solution to the standoff, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman telling AFP that Britain shares "his preference for early bilateral discussions."

Larijani's comments came hours after Iran said that all 15 sailors had confessed to illegally entering its waters, and broadcast new pictures of the group apparently admitting to their error.

"All evidence, including the GPS carried by the British military and also the frank confessions of all 15 British personnel, shows that they have entered Iran's territorial waters without permission," state television said.

Britain maintains that the eight Royal Navy sailors and seven marines were only carrying out routine anti-smuggling operations in Iraqi waters.

Iranian state media commentaries spoke of a "change" in the British attitude towards resolving the stand-off, but the reports did not say what shift had been made and had yet to be echoed by any Iranian officials.

The ISNA news agency, without citing its sources, said that because of a shift in London's stance, Iran was holding back from airing voiced confessions from all the sailors.

The detention of the 14 men and one woman has further poisoned relations between Iran and the West at a time of mounting international impatience with the Islamic republic over its refusal to rein in its contested nuclear programme.

During its report, state television also showed very brief images of all 15 Britons talking to camera individually or in pairs, though the sound was not broadcast and it was not clear if these were their "confessions."

Britain insisted there was no chance of London backing down.

"The Iranians know our position. They know that stage-managed TV appearances aren't going to affect that position. They know that we have strong international support," Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said.

He added that "a lot is going on behind the scenes" to secure their release.

Britain replied on Saturday to a letter from Iran that had asked London to acknowledge that the sailors had trespassed and guarantee it would not happen again.

But Iran again infuriated Britain by also broadcasting what London described as "unacceptable" new images with accompanying sound of two detainees.

"At about 10 o'clock in the morning, we were seized, apparently at this point here, from their maps, from the GPS they've shown us, which is inside Iranian territorial waters," said one of the men, Captain Chris Air.

As he spoke, Air pointed with a pen to pictures of their frigate and speedboats stuck onto the maps and an area with the handwritten legend "the point where the intruding boats were captured."

Britain, which unlike the United States has diplomatic relations with Iran, on Sunday endured an angry protest by hundreds of Iranians outside its diplomatic mission in Tehran calling for the naval personnel to be punished.

London's ally Washington has never ruled out the option of using military action to bring the Islamic republic to heel over its nuclear programme, which the United States says is aimed at making atomic weapons. Iran denies the charge.

The White House defended calling the group "hostages" on Monday, and denied ramping up rhetoric towards Tehran to set the stage for war, though, with spokeswoman Dana Perino telling reporters: "We reject any notion that suggests that we are ratcheting up the language in terms of trying to prepare to go to war with Iran."

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was due on Tuesday to hold his fifth solo news conference since taking office, amid indications that he could announce important news on Iran's nuclear programme.

Meanwhile, officials continued to applaud the arrest of the sailors and marines, which coincided with festivities for the major holiday of Nowruz marking the start of the Iranian New Year.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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