LONDON — Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday it was time to increase the pressure on Iran to release 15 Royal Navy personnel who were detained last week.
“There was no justification whatever … for their detention, it was completely unacceptable, wrong and illegal,” Blair told the House of Commons, shortly after the Ministry of Defense released satellite data that it said proved the crew was in Iraqi waters.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Wednesday she had frozen bilateral talks with Iran on all other issues until Tehran returns 15 British sailors and marines seized on Friday.
“No one should be in any doubt about the seriousness with which we regard these events,” Beckett told the House of Commons. Earlier, defense officials produced what they said was proof that British boarding vessels were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi territorial waters when the Royal Navy crew was captured. Iran’s embassy in London said the two governments are capable of resolving the incident.
“We had hoped to see their immediate release; this has not happened. It is now time to ratchet up the diplomatic and international pressure in order to make sure the Iranian government understands its total isolation on this issue,” Blair said.
He said he believed the crew acted sensibly in not putting up fight after being confronted by six Iranian vessels.
“If they had engaged in military combat at that stage, there would have undoubtedly been severe loss of life. I think they took the right decision and did what was entirely sensible,” Blair said.
Earlier Wednesday, Britain’s military said its vessels were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters when Iran seized the sailors and marines.
Vice Adm. Charles Style told reporters that the Iranians had provided a position on Sunday — a location that he said was in Iraqi waters.
By Tuesday, Iranian officials had given a revised position 2 miles east, placing the British inside Iranian waters — a claim he said was not verified by global positioning system coordinates.
“It is hard to understand a legitimate reason for this change of coordinates,” Style said.
Britain and the United States have said the crew was intercepted Friday after they completed a search of a civilian vessel in the Iraqi part of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, where the border between Iran and Iraq has been disputed for centuries.
Iran has said the 15 were being treated well, but refused to say where they were being held, or rule out the possibility that they could be brought to trial for allegedly entering Iranian waters.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the case was following normal procedures, holding out the possibility that the Britons could be brought to trial.
He said the Britons were being treated well and that the only woman among the sailors, 26-year-old Faye Turney, had been given privacy.
“They are in completely good health. Rest assured that they have been treated with humanitarian and moral behavior,” Hosseini told The Associated Press.
In talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett demanded that British diplomats be allowed to meet with the crew to make their own assessment.