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Blair calls capture of British sailors `very serious'

March 26, 2007|From the Associated Press

TEHRAN — British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Sunday that 15 British sailors captured by Iran as they patrolled the Persian Gulf were in Iraqi -- not Iranian -- waters, and warned that Britain viewed their situation as "very serious."

"I want to get it resolved in as easy and diplomatic a way as possible," Blair said at a European summit in Berlin. He added that he hoped the Iranians "understood how fundamental an issue this is for the British government."

Britain said its diplomats met Sunday with Iranian officials in Tehran, where their demand for access to the group was denied after Iran refused to say where they were being held.

Iran appeared equally resolute, suggesting the British service members may be put on trial for allegedly violating its waters when they boarded a merchant ship at the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Britain has said the group was searching for smugglers.

"The charge against them is the illegal entrance into Iranian waters and this issue is being considered legally," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters Sunday at the United Nations in New York.

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