- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

11:54 a.m.

LONDON — Iran said a female British sailor seized with 14 other crew members would be released today or tomorrow, softening Tehran’s position by suggesting their boats’ purported entry into Iranian waters may have been a mistake.

Iranian state TV also said it would soon broadcast video showing the 15 British sailors and marines who were captured last week. British diplomats said Iran previously had promised not to parade the captives in front of television cameras.

Britain said it was freezing most contacts with Iran until it freed all the crew members, and the British military released what it said was proof its boats were within Iraqi territorial waters when they were seized.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki discounted the possibility of an escalation in the crisis, suggesting the British vessels may have made a mistake.

“This is a violation that just happened. It could be natural. They did not resist,” he said.

“Today or tomorrow, the lady will be released,” Mr. Mottaki said today on the sidelines of an Arab summit in the Saudi capital, referring to sailor Faye Turney, 26, the only woman among the 15.

The Iranian Embassy in London also said: “We are confident that Iranian and British governments are capable of resolving this security case through their close contacts and cooperation.”

Britain’s military said its vessels were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters when Iran seized the sailors and marines on Friday.

Vice Adm. Charles Style told reporters that the Iranians had provided a position on Sunday — a location that he said was in Iraqi waters. By yesterday, Iranian officials had given a revised position two miles east, placing the British inside Iranian waters — a claim he said was not verified by global-positioning-system coordinates.

“It is hard to understand a legitimate reason for this change of coordinates,” Adm. Style said.

He gave the satellite coordinates of the British crew as 29 degrees 50.36 minutes north latitude and 048 degrees 43.08 minutes east longitude and said it had been confirmed by an Indian-flagged merchant ship boarded by the sailors and marines.

Mr. Mottaki denied this, saying, “That’s not true. It happened in Iranian territorial waters.”

Britain and the United States have said the crew was intercepted after completing 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.

Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons that “there was no justification whatever … for their detention, it was completely unacceptable, wrong and illegal.”

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said she had suspended bilateral talks on all other issues with Tehran until the 15 were released. Visits by officials will be stopped, issuing visas to Iranian officials suspended and British support for events such as trade missions put on hold, her office said.

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