Iran General NewsIran now says no need to try Britons

Iran now says no need to try Britons

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AP: Iran’s chief international negotiator said Monday that the country wants to resolve the crisis over 15 captured British sailors through diplomacy and there is no need to put the crew on trial. Associated Press

By NASSER KARIMI

Associated Press Writer

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran’s chief international negotiator said Monday that the country wants to resolve the crisis over 15 captured British sailors through diplomacy and there is no need to put the crew on trial.

In London, an official said earlier that Britain has agreed to consider discussing with Iran how to avoid future disputes over contested waters in the Persian Gulf.

Ali Larijani, the Iranian diplomat, said his country’s priority “is to solve the problem through proper diplomatic channels.”

“We are not interested in letting this issue get further complicated,” he told Britain’s Channel 4 television news.

Britain contends the sailors were in Iraqi waters, however, and has refused Iranian demands for an apology. It has also criticized the airing of footage of four of the sailors confessing so far, saying the statements appeared coerced and the broadcasting of captured military personnel violated international norms.

In video Sunday, the captives appeared on the state-run Arabic-language TV channel Al-Alam in separate clips, pointing at the same map of the Persian Gulf.

The first sailor, who was identified as Royal Marine Capt. Chris Air, said the Iranians supplied the group with GPS coordinates which he said were “apparently” in Iranian waters.

Air pointed with a pen to a location on the map where he said two boats left a warship of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq around 8:30 a.m. on March 23. He said the seven marines and eight navy sailors were captured around 10 a.m.

He said “we were seized apparently at this point here on their maps and on the GPS they’ve shown us, which is inside Iranian territorial waters.”

The second sailor, identified as Lt. Felix Carman, pointed to an area on the map and said that location was where he and the 14 others were arrested.

“I’d like to say to the Iranian people, I can understand why you are so angry about our intrusion into your waters,” he said.

In a letter sent in response to a note from Iranian officials, Britain agreed to consider discussions about how to avoid similar disputes in the future, said the British official. Britain’s response – most of which has been kept secret – may have prompted the report Monday from Iran’s state-run radio.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesman earlier in the day called the broadcast confessions “stage-managed,” and said Britain had not changed its demand for the sailors’ unconditional release.

“The Iranians know our position, they know that stage-managed TV appearances are not going to affect our position,” the spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. “They know we have strong international support.”

The head of the Iranian parliamentary committee on foreign policy and national security, Allaeddin Broujerdi, said Monday that Britain should send a representative to Tehran.

“The only solution is for them to send an official to find out the reason for the invasion,” Broujerdi told state radio. It was not immediately clear whether Broujerdi had government backing for his proposal.

Broujerdi added: “There is a need for a bilateral agreement to prevent such an event in the future.”

Iran’s ambassador to Moscow had said on Sunday that the sailors’ case had entered a “legal phase,” but backtracked from earlier remarks attributed to him that the sailors could be tried.

The alleged admissions of intrusion into Iranian territorial waters are not entirely new: Iran’s military chief had said the day after their capture that the sailors had confessed after interrogations to illegally entering Iranian waters.

On Sunday, Iran’s Arabic-language state television station, Al-Alam, broadcast footage of two of the sailors using maps to show that they were in Iranian waters when they were surrounded and seized by Iranian military vessels.

Britain has released its own maps and GPS coordinates showing their location to be in Iraqi waters at the time of the capture.

The 15 Britons were detained by Iranian naval units on March 23 while patrolling for smugglers as part of a U.N.-mandated force monitoring the Persian Gulf. They were seized by Iranian naval units near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab, a waterway that has long been a disputed dividing line between Iraq and Iran.

The newscaster said the two had confessed to “illegally” trespassing in Iranian waters.

Al-Alam broadcast longer videos of the Britons earlier this week, including footage on Friday of captured marine Nathan Thomas Summers apologizing for entering Iranian waters “without permission” and admitting to trespassing in Iranian waters.

Al-Alam also aired video on Wednesday showing Faye Turney, the only woman in the group, wearing a headscarf and saying: “Obviously we trespassed.” Iran has also made public three letters purportedly written by Turney. The last letter contained an apology.

Associated Press writer Paisley Dodds contributed to this report from London.

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