Prime Minister Tony Blair says the next few days are critical to see if
Britain and Iran can diplomatically resolve their dispute over 15 British
sailors and marines, seized by Iranian forces nearly two weeks ago. At the
same time, an Iranian diplomat held hostage in Iraq is freed and Iran is
reported seeking the release of five of its citizens detained by American
forces in Iraq in January. VOA's Sonja Pace has the story from
Speaking to a local radio station in Scotland, Prime Minister Tony
Blair said he welcomed indications that Tehran is ready to end the
standoff over the detained naval
"I think the next 48 hours will be fairly critical. I mean, I have read
the transcripts of the interviews that Mr. Larijani gave and that seems to
offer some prospect, but you know we need to hear from them [The Iranians]
direct," said Mr. Blair.
On Monday, senior Iranian official, Ali Larijani told Britain's Channel
4 news that the issue could be resolved through diplomatic means and that
he saw no need to put the sailors on trial, as he had previously
indicated. He spoke through a translator.
"Definitely, our priority would not be a trial, except that [if] the
U.K. government would insist on not solving the problem through diplomatic
channels. Our priority is to solve the problem through diplomatic
channels," he said.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Mr. Blair said two possible tracks
remain to resolve the issue.
"To try and settle this by way of peaceful and calm negotiation to get
out people back as quickly as possible, the other is to make it clear that
if that is not possible then we have to take an increasingly tough
position," he explained.
Mr. Blair said the choice was up to the Iranian government.
the center of the crisis is exactly where the British sailors were when
they were seized at the mouth of the Shatt al Arab waterway on March 23.
Britain insists they were in Iraqi territorial waters, conducting a
routine U.N.-sanctioned, anti-smuggling search operation. Iran insists the
boats had strayed into Iranian waters.
Iran initially demanded a British apology for straying into its waters,
but Larijani stopped short of such demands on Monday and indicated it
might suffice for Britain to "guarantee" that such a violation not be
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was scheduled to hold a news
conference in Tehran on Tuesday, where he was expected to talk about the
detention of the British naval crew. The news conference was postponed,
possibly until Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Tehran has confirmed that Iranian diplomat Jalal Sharafi
returned home from Iraq, after being released by his Iraqi captors.
Sharafi was seized by armed men in Iraqi uniforms in the Karradah district
of Baghdad February 4.
Iran insisted he was held by an Iraqi military unit commanded by the
Americans. The United States denied any role in the diplomat's kidnapping.
At the same time, an Iranian Foreign Ministry official is quoted as
saying Tehran is "intensively" seeking the release of five Iranians who
were detained by American forces in northern Iraq earlier this year.
The U.S. military said it seized the men because they were suspected of
providing money and weapons to Iraqi militants. Officials said at least
one of the men was a senior officer in the elite Iranian Revolutionary
Speaking at a news conference in Washington, President Bush said he
supported British efforts to secure the release of the British captives
held in Iran, but there would be no "quid pro quos when it comes to