British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Sunday that the 15 British sailors and Royal Marines captured by Iran were not in Iranian waters and warned Teheran that Britain viewed their fate as a "fundamental" issue. "It is simply is not true that they went into Iranian territorial waters," Blair said at a news conference in Berlin, adding "I want to get it resolved in as easy and diplomatic a way as possible." He described the situation as "very serious" and said he hoped the Iranians "understood how fundamental an issue this is for the British government." The sailors may be charged with spying, Army Radio quoted senior officials in Iran as saying. On Saturday, an Iranian military official said that the sailors had "confessed" to illegally entering Iranian waters.
Iran: British sailors 'bargaining chips'
The sailors, taken at gunpoint Friday by Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Al Quds soldiers were captured intentionally and are to be used as bargaining chips for the release of five Iranians who were arrested at the Iranian consul in Irbil, Iraq by US troops, an Iranian official told the daily paper Asharq al-Awsat on Saturday.
In addition, a senior Iranian military official said Saturday that the decision to capture the soldiers was made during a March 18 emergency meeting of the High Council for Security following a report by the Al-Quds contingent commander, Kassem Suleimani, to the Iranian chief of the armed forces, Maj.Gen. Hassan Firouz Abadi.
In the report, according to Asharq al-Awsat, Suleimani warned Abadi that Al Quds and Revolutionary Guards' operations had become transparent to US and British intelligence following the arrest of a senior Al Quds officer and four of his deputies in Irbil.
According to the official, Iran was worried that its detained people would leak sensitive intelligence information.