Reuters: Iran says British sailors it detained are well but has not disclosed where they are being held, Britain said on Monday, as tension over their capture and Tehran’s nuclear plans sent oil prices to a 2007 high.
By Fredrik Dahl
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran says British sailors it detained are well but has not disclosed where they are being held, Britain said on Monday, as tension over their capture and Tehran’s nuclear plans sent oil prices to a 2007 high.
Naval Revolutionary Guards units seized the 15 sailors and marines in the Gulf on Friday, sparking a diplomatic crisis — just a day before the United Nations imposed new sanctions on Iran over its disputed atomic program.
Britain said it had asked Russia, which has close commercial and diplomatic ties with Tehran, and other countries to help in efforts to secure their release.
“We are in touch with governments in the region to enlist their help in lobbying Iran for the release of the group,” a Foreign Office official said in London.
Iran has said it is considering charging the Britons with illegally entering its waters. Vice Foreign Minister Mahdi Mostafavi said on Monday they were being interrogated to see if they had crossed into Iranian territory on purpose or not.
“When that is clear the appropriate decision will be made,” Mostafavi said, Iranian state television reported.
Britain says they were seized in Iraqi waters.
Some hardline groups suggest the case could be a bargaining chip in Iran’s nuclear and other rows with the West, exposing what analysts say are divisions with more moderate voices in Iran who want to build bridges abroad not exacerbate tensions.
“It appears there is no decision on (how to handle) this issue,” said one Iranian analyst pointing to the relatively subdued coverage in Iran’s media so far.
A diplomat echoed this view, saying hardline news sources were making the most noise. Both the analyst and diplomat said the incident may have taken the authorities by surprise and did not appear pre-planned, so there was a debate about next steps.
OIL UP ON CRISIS
In London, the Foreign Office said Britain’s ambassador to Tehran had asked to see a senior Iranian Foreign Ministry official for details of the 15 and to be allowed to see them.
The official “assured him the group were fit and well and in Iran. He gave no further details at this stage,” it said.
Iraq also urged Iran to free the 15 detained Britons, saying they were detained in its waters, as London says.
Britain says the two boatloads of Royal Navy personnel were searching a merchant vessel on a U.N.-approved mission in Iraqi waters when Iranian gunboats encircled and captured them.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards captured eight British servicemen in similar circumstances in 2004 and released them unharmed after three nights.
Oil climbed toward $63 on Monday, setting a new record for this year, on the growing tension between Tehran and the West.
On Saturday, the U.N. Security Council slapped arms and financial sanctions on Iran for its refusal to suspend nuclear work, but major powers also offered new talks and renewed an economic and technological incentive package offer.
The sanctions — which follow measures adopted in December — will stay in place until Iran halts the enrichment of uranium, which can be used to make a bomb or to generate power. Iran has 60 days to comply or face possible new sanctions.
In response, Iran said it would limit cooperation with the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog and vowed not to halt its atom work.
The West suspects oil-rich Iran is seeking to make nuclear bombs, a charge Tehran denies.
Despite the apparent deadlock, a European Union diplomat said the 27-nation bloc was hopeful talks would resume with Iran. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana expects to speak to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani later on Monday.
The United States, leading efforts to isolate Iran over its nuclear ambitions, has said it prefers a diplomatic solution to the crisis but has not ruled out military options.
“We do not seek a confrontation with Iran, we seek a diplomatic outcome,” said Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns.
(Additional reporting by Sophie Walker in London, Edmund Blair in Tehran, Ross Colvin in Baghdad, William Schomberg in Brussels)