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Iran says no need for trial of British sailors

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran said on Monday it wanted to resolve the row over 15 British sailors and marines seized in the Gulf through diplomacy and there was no need for a trial.

The 11-day dispute centers on where the sailors were seized by Iran. Britain insists they were in Iraqi waters on a routine mission authorized by the United Nations and the Iraqi government, but Tehran says they were in its territory.

“This issue can be resolved and there is no need for any trial,” Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told Britain’s Channel 4 News television.

“There should be a delegation to review the case ... to clarify whether they have been in our territorial waters or not. Through sensationalism you cannot solve the problem,” he said in a interview from Tehran, speaking through a translator.

Britain’s approach, which included seeking U.N. and European Union backing to isolate Iran, has been strongly criticized by Tehran during the stand-off, which has heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and helped pushed oil prices up $10.

“There is a difference of view between the UK government and the Iranian government. This issue should be resolved bilaterally,” Larijani said. “A guarantee must be given that such violations would not be repeated.”

Britain’s foreign office had no immediate reaction to Larijani’s remarks.

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“Our priority is the safe release of the personnel and diplomatic means will continue,” a ministry spokeswoman said.


Iranian television said on Monday it had detected a shift in British policy that may help resolve the row, marking a softening in Tehran’s tone.

“It seems that Britain has shifted a little bit from its stance in the last one or two days over the undeniable facts and from some of its clamor,” Iranian state television said in a commentary accompanying new video of the military personnel.

London has sent a response to a letter from Tehran calling for it to accept responsibility for any border violations. It has not yet received a reply.

Ministers have also been more measured in their comments over the weekend after a barrage of strongly-worded criticism about the way Tehran was parading the sailors on television.

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“The Iranians know our position. They know stage-managed TV appearances are not going to affect that position,” Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesman said. “We’re waiting now for their response. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes.”

Washington stressed on Monday it stood firmly behind Blair and laid the blame on Tehran. But the White House, which has been leading the international campaign to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, insisted it was not trying to escalate the crisis.

“We reject any notion that suggests that we are ratcheting up the language in terms of trying to prepare to go for -- to war with Iran. That is certainly not the case,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

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President Bush on Saturday called the detention inexcusable.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday he had appealed to Tehran to tone down its rhetoric.

New video footage broadcast on Monday showed some members of the British group in uniform and talking to camera, but their voices could not be heard. Previously Iran had aired “confessions” from four of the British sailors and marines.

Additional reporting by Adrian Croft and Paul Majendie in London, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations