- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

12:21 p.m.

TEHRAN (AP) — Iran said today the 15 British sailors and marines it detained last week were healthy, have been treated humanely and that the only female sailor among them had been given privacy.

The detentions have increased tensions between Iran and the West, and today British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he hoped diplomacy would win their release but was prepared to move to a “different phase” if not.

In Tehran, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, insisted the detained Britons had been treated well: “They are in completely good health. Rest assured that they have been treated with humanitarian and moral behavior.”

Mr. Hosseini said the 26-year-old female sailor, Faye Turney, had complete privacy. “Definitely, all ethics have been observed,” he said. He would not say where the Britons were being kept.

There were fears in Britain that the fate of the 15 could get caught up in the political tensions between Iran and the West, including the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program and accusations of Iranian help to Shi’ite militants in Iraq.

Today, the U.S. Navy began its largest demonstration of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with two aircraft carriers and backed by warplanes flying simulated attack maneuvers off the coast of Iran.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl said the U.S. maneuvers were not organized in response to the capture of the British sailors — nor were they meant to threaten the Islamic Republic, whose navy operates in the same waters.

Britain and the United States have said the sailors and marines were intercepted Friday just after they completed a search of a civilian vessel in the Iraqi part of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, where the border between Iran and Iraq has been disputed for centuries.

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