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Iran demands mea culpa from outraged Britain

Published March 29, 2007


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday that Britain must admit that its 15 sailors and marines entered Iranian waters in order to resolve a standoff over their capture by the Mideast nation.

Manouchehr Mottaki's statement came on a day of escalating tensions, highlighted by an Iranian video of the detained Britons that showed the only female captive saying her group had "trespassed" in Iranian waters. Britain angrily denounced the video as unacceptable and froze most dealings with the Mideast nation.

Mottaki said that if the alleged entry into Iranian waters was a mistake "this can be solved. But they have to show that it was a mistake, that will help us to end this issue."

It was the first time that Iran has publicly suggested a way to resolve the crisis, but British acquiescence appeared unlikely as the country has been insisting since the crisis began that its troops were in Iraqi waters and released documents on Wednesday to back up the claim.

Britain's military released a Global Positioning System readout that it said proved the Royal Navy personnel were seized 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters Friday. But Mottaki said Iran had GPS devices from the British boats that showed they were in Iranian territory.

Mottaki also backed off a prediction that the female sailor, 26-year-old Faye Turney, could be freed Wednesday or today, saying she would be freed "as soon as possible." He also said Tehran agreed to allow British officials to meet with service personnel.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government announced it was freezing all dealings with Iran except to negotiate the release of its personnel.

The statement appeared to refer to diplomatic dealings rather than business relations, but Britain's Department of Trade said the country does not buy oil directly from Iran.

Oil prices rose by more than $1 a barrel Wednesday to a six-month high amid worries about the standoff.

Fast Facts:

In Persian Gulf

The United States wrapped up a huge military exercise in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, the largest show of strength in the gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq - 15 ships, 125 aircraft and 13,000 sailors. The United Arab Emirates joined Qatar in declaring it would not take part in any attack on Iran; the United States has denied any intention to attack.

[Last modified March 29, 2007, 02:08:38]

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