'British sailors may be put to trial'

Says Iranian ambassador in Moscow; EU aligns with UK in condemning Iran.

UK sailer boat 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
UK sailer boat 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Iran's ambassador to Russia has said the 15 British sailors held by Iran could be tried for violating international law, Iran's state news agency IRNA reported on its Web site Saturday. Gholam-Reza Ansari told Russian television Friday that Iran had launched a legal investigation of the British sailors and said, "They will be tried if there is enough evidence of guilt," IRNA reported. On Friday, the EU called for the "immediate and unconditional release" of British naval personnel held by Iran and warned of "appropriate measures" if Teheran does not comply. The EU foreign ministers, meeting in Bremen, Germany, also called on Iran in a statement to "immediately inform" the British government about the whereabouts of the captives.
  • Full text of letter handed to British ambassador
  • Iran releases second sailor letter In their statement, the diplomats said, "all evidence clearly indicates that at the time of the seizure, the British naval personnel were on a routine patrolling mission in Iraqi waters in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolution 1723." The seizure, the statement said, "therefore constitutes a clear breach of international law." Earlier in the day, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Iran is fooling no one by broadcasting footage of the captured British soldiers in front of the cameras. In a brief statement, Blair said that if Iran continued broadcasting footage of the sailors, it risks being isolated by the international community. "I don't know why the Iranian regime keeps doing this, all it does it heightens people's sense of disgust. Captured personnel being paraded and manipulated in this way, it doesn't fool anyone," he said. "And what the Iranians have to realize is that if they continue in this way they will face continued isolation." Moments earlier, the government's Arabic-language TV channel broadcast what it claimed was a confession by one of the British marines detained last week in what Teheran insists were its territorial waters. "We illegally trespassed on Iran's territorial waters and were arrested by the Iranian border guards and I would like to apologize to the Iranian people for the issue," Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) showed the man, dressed in military uniform and identifying himself as Nathan Thomas Summers, saying. He was shown sitting with another male serviceman and the female British sailor Faye Turney against a floral curtain. Both men wore camouflage fatigues with a label saying "Royal Navy" on their chests and a small British flag stitched to their left sleeves. IRNA said that Summers had given the statement minutes before he appeared on TV. The news agency said he was a rifleman in the Royal Marines. "Since our detention on March 23, everything has been very good and I'm completely satisfied about the situation," the agency quoted Summers as saying. The TV showed pictures of the light British naval boats at the time of the sailors' seizure. The helicopter flying in the background was British, the Al-Alam newscaster said. Britain's Foreign Office denounced Iran for broadcasting the footage. "Using our servicemen in this way for propaganda reasons is outrageous," said a Foreign Office spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with department policy. Meanwhile, the Iranian Embassy in London criticized the UN Security Council for getting involved in the crisis over 15 captured British sailors. In an e-mail statement, the embassy said that the Security Council resolution was passed in violation of its own mandate. "This case can and should be settled through bilateral channels," the statement said. "The British government's attempt to engage third parties, including the Security Council, with this case is not helpful." Britain said it was giving "serious consideration" to a letter from Iran that appeared to offer hope Friday for a breakthrough in the standoff over freeing 15 British navy personnel and ending the crisis over their capture. The British government did not elaborate on the contents of the Iranian letter, which was delivered to the British Embassy in Teheran late Thursday. "We can confirm that as reported in the Iranian media, that the Iranian government has sent a formal note to the British Embassy," a spokeswoman said. "Such exchanges are always confidential but we are giving the message serious consideration and will soon respond formally to the Iranian government." The letter stopped short of asking for a formal apology but instead asked for Britain to acknowledge its sailors had trespassed into Iranian waters and come to an agreement that it would not happen again. The letter appeared to signal a softening of Teheran's position, offering some hope for an end to the crisis. In the letter the Iranian government said it "protests strongly against this illegal act in violating Iranian territorial waters" and called on Britain to "guarantee to avoid the recurrence of such acts". Turkey, meanwhile, said Iran is willing to reconsider the possible release of the only female captive, Faye Turney. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Thursday evening to discuss the captive military personnel, said Erdogan's spokesman, Akif Beki. Iranian state television said Ahmadinejad accused Britain of using propaganda rather than trying to solve the matter quietly through diplomatic channels. Turkey, the only Muslim country in NATO, considers itself a bridge between the West and the Muslim world and maintains good relations with Iran. The Turks have also urged Iran to let a Turkish diplomat meet with the detainees and to free Turney. Iran claims the British sailors and marines, part of a Royal Navy force patrolling the Persian Gulf for smugglers, were operating in its waters when captured last Friday. The incident came several months into the escalating standoff between Iran and the United Nations over Teheran's nuclear program. State television also broadcast a video on Thursday it said showed the operation that seized the British sailors and marines. In the clip, a helicopter hovers above inflatable boats in choppy seas, then the Royal Navy crews are seen seated in an Iranian vessel. The video came after Iran broadcast a longer video showing the Britons in captivity. That video included a segment showing Turney saying her team had "trespassed" in Iranian waters. Crude oil prices rose to a new six-month high, above US$66 a barrel, on concerns that the tensions with Iran could jeopardize oil exports as US gasoline supplies wane and demand swells.