- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

12:30 p.m.

NEW YORK — Britain took its case to free its 15 sailors and marines held by Iran to the United Nations today, asking the Security Council to support a statement that would “deplore” Tehran’s action and demand their immediate release.

However, Security Council diplomats said the brief press statement circulated by Britain’s U.N. Mission is likely to face problems from Russia and others because it says the Britons were “operating in Iraqi waters” — a point the Iranian government contests.

The British move came as Iran rolled back on its promise to release the sole female British sailor among the captives. The Iranian military chief, Gen. Ali Reza Afshar, said that owing to the “wrong behavior” of the British government, “the release of a female British soldier has been suspended,” the semiofficial Iranian news agency Mehr reported.

Prime Minister Tony Blair’s official spokesman dismissed a suggestion yesterday by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki that Britain should resolve the crisis by admitting that its personnel had made a “mistake” and crossed into Iranian waters.

Instead, Britain decided to seek a U.N. declaration condemning the detentions.

Mottaki had said yesterday that sailor Faye Turney, 26, would be released within 48 hours. Britain said it was halting all discussion with Iran except negotiations to free the detained sailors and expressed outrage over Iran’s broadcast of images of the captured service members.

The British government said its sailors and marines were seized last Friday after completing a search of a civilian ship near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which forms the border between Iran and Iraq, under a mandate from the Security Council and at the request of Iraq. Iran says the British vessels were inside its territorial waters.

Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said on Iranian state radio that “British leaders have miscalculated this issue.”

If Britain follows through with its policies toward Iran, Mr. Larijani said, “this case may face a legal path” — a clear reference to Iran’s prosecuting the sailors in court.

Mr. Blair’s official spokesman said Britain wanted to resolve the crisis quickly and without having a “confrontation over this.”

In the video broadcast yesterday on Iran’s Arab-language satellite channel, Seaman Turney said her group had “trespassed” in Iranian waters. The segment showed her wearing a black head scarf, sitting in a room before floral curtains and smoking a cigarette.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense released coordinates that it said proved the captured naval personnel were seized 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters.

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