Britain freezes contacts with Iran over detained naval crew

By David Stringer LONDON, AP

Britain froze all contacts with Iran on Wednesday apart from negotiations to free 15 captured sailors and marines, as the defense ministry released satellite positioning coordinates which it claimed proved the group was seized illegally in Iraqi waters.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was time to increase pressure on Iran over the seizure of a Royal Navy crew and that satellite data had shown the capture of the 15 personnel on Friday was completely “unacceptable, wrong and illegal.”

Blair told the House of Commons it was “now time to ratchet up the international and diplomatic pressure” on Tehran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told The Associated Press during an Arab leaders summit meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that Faye Turney, 26 — the only female crew member — could be released later on Wednesday or on Thursday. State TV in Iran said it would air footage showing the captured British sailors. A senior British Foreign Office diplomat said Iran had promised during private talks not to parade the crew in front of television cameras.

Blair’s office and the Foreign Office would not confirm if the offer had been made in negotiations with Iranian diplomats and said Britain continued to demand the immediate release of all 15 sailors and marines.

Defense officials said Iran, which claims the Britons had strayed into its waters, had changed its account of events during negotiations in London and Tehran — first offering coordinates which placed the naval vessels inside Iraqi waters.

Vice Admiral Charles Style said Iran gave the initial coordinates Sunday, but by Monday offered a revised position two miles (four kilometers) east, placing the British boats inside Iranian waters — a claim Style said was not verified by Global Positioning System coordinates.

Style said satellite positioning coordinates showed the 15 Britons were 1.7 nautical miles (3.15 kilometers) inside Iraqi waters when they were detained.