Iran urges Britain to admit 'mistake' over sailors' position

Iran's foreign minister said British officials will be allowed to meet with 15 detained sailors and marines being held by his country, but added Britain must admit they entered Iranian waters.

British officials will be allowed to meet with 15 detained sailors and marines being held by Iran, the country's foreign minister said Wednesday.

But Manouchehr Mottakiwarned Britain must admit thatthe personnelentered Iranian waters in order to resolvethe standoff over their capture.

"First they have to admit that they have made a mistake. Admitting the mistake will facilitate a solution to the problem,"Mottaki told the Associated Press on Wednesdayin an interview in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

"But unfortunately, the British have not admitted their mistake."

Mottaki's announcement came on the same day asIranian television released pictures of thedetained personnel andbroadcast footage of one female captive whosaid British boats had "obviously" trespassed.

The footage included video of Faye Turney, 26, who, according toMottaki, will be releasedsoon.
This image, taken from footage released by the Iranian government, shows captive British personnel eating. ((CBC))

"Obviously we trespassed," Turney said on the video broadcast by Al-Alam, an Arabic-language, Iranian state-run television station carried across the Middle East.

She was shown in a white tunic with a black headscarf draped loosely over her hair.

In another clip, shewas shown in uniform eating with sailors and marines, and at one point smoking a cigarette with her eyes downcast.

Boats in Iranian waters: letter

The Iranian Embassy in London also provided a letter allegedly written by Turney to her family.The letter saidthe Britishboats "had apparently gone into Iranian waters.

"I wish we hadn't because then I'd be home with you all right now. I am so sorry we did, because I know we wouldn't be here now if we hadn't," the letter said, adding she's "well and safe" and being "well looked after.

"I am fed three meals a day and have a constant supply of fluids. The people are friendly and hospitable, very compassionate and warm."

British Vice-Admiral Charles Style said Wednesday that Iran's arrest of British sailors was unjustified. ((CBC))
Mottaki initiallysaid Turneywould be released withina day, but changed his tone later in the day.

"The lady will be released soon," Mottaki saidon the sidelines of an Arab summit in Saudi Arabia.

The British government condemned the release of the footage.

"It's completely unacceptable for these pictures to be shown on television," the British Foreign Office said in a statement after the broadcast. "There is no doubt our personnel were seized in Iraqi territorial waters."

The statement also demanded that British diplomats be given immediate access to them as a "prelude" to their release.

The release of thevideocame hours after Vice-Admiral Charles Style, deputy chief of British defence staff, spoke to reporters in London, five days after the seven marines and eight sailors were taken into custody.

Style said the British boarding teams, which patrol the Iraqi coastline to survey merchant ships and protect Iraqi oil infrastructure, boarded an Indian-flagged merchant vessel for a routine inspection on the morning of March 23.

"The merchant vessel was 7½ nautical miles [nearly 14 kilometres] southeast of the Al-Faw Peninsula and clearly within Iraqi territorial waters," he said. "Her master has confirmed that his vessel was anchored within Iraqi waters at the time of the arrest."

GPS equipment and the Iraqi foreign minister have confirmed the British sailors were 1.7 nautical miles, roughly three kilometres, inside Iraqi waters when they boarded the merchant vessel, he said.

Britain cuts bilateral business

British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Parliament on Wednesday it was time "to ratchet up the diplomatic and international pressure" on Iran, while British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett announced a freeze on bilateral business with Iran.

Beckett had cut short a visit to Turkey to return to London to deal with the issue.

As part of that action, Britain will not issue visas to Iranian officials, considered a serious move in diplomatic circles.

Shortly after Beckett's announcement, the official Iranian news agency, IRA, restated Tehran's claim that the British sailors were capturedhalf akilometre inside Iranian waters, but said the dispute could be resolved "through contacts and close co-operation."

Iran provides 2 different locations

Style said the Iranians on Sunday gave Britain a set of co-ordinates where, theysaid, the incident took place— a location that Style said was in Iraqi waters.

"We pointed this out to them on Sunday in diplomatic contact and after we did this, they provided a second set of co-ordinates that places the incident in Iranian waters," he said.

"It is hard to understand a legitimate reason for this change of co-ordinates. In any case, we unambiguously contest both the positions provided by the Iranians."

Iran said the British sailors committed an act of aggression by sailing into Iranian waters, and has threatened to put the 14 men and one woman on trial. The group and their two inflatable boats were seized at gunpoint at the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, marking the southern stretch of Iraq's border with Iran.

Sailors 'ambushed': Britain

Style said the captain of the merchant vessel has confirmed to British officials that the sailors were "ambushed" by Iranian soldiers while leaving his ship.

British officials have not been allowed consular access to the sailors, but Iranian officials have said they are "well and sound."

Style, echoing weekend statements from Blair, said the arrests are "unjustified and wrong," and demanded speedy access to the sailors.

"It is a matter of deep concern to us and the families of the people taken," he said.

"We continue not only to call just for their safe, but their safe and speedy return, and we continue to seek consular access to them as a matter of priority as a prelude to their release."

The incident risks escalating an already tense relationship between Iran and the West following the UN Security Council decision on the weekend to impose tougher sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

The sanctions include a ban on Iranian arms exports, and freezing the assets of 28 additional people and organizations involved in Iran's nuclear and missile programs.