Iran aired television footage on Friday of a British sailor “confessing” to trespassing in Iranian waters, further escalating the diplomatic crisis over Tehran’s capture of 15 navy personnel.
Britain, which failed to win strong condemnation of Iran’s detention of its 15 sailors and marines at the UN Security Council on Thursday, said it deplored the latest broadcast as “outrageous.”
And Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, in Germany for an EU meeting expected to show solidarity with Britain, said she saw no sign that Iran was seeking to solve the crisis.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Britain to apologise over the incident and Tehran has so far refused to bow to mounting international pressure to release the 14 men and one woman seized in Gulf waters a week ago.
“I would like to apologise for entering your waters without any permission,” the Royal Navy serviceman identified as Nathan Thomas Sommers said in an interview broadcast on Arabic-language Al-Alam television.
“Since we have been arrested in Iran our treatment has been very friendly, they took care of us very well,” he said.
The interview was interspersed with images of the sailor sitting with two of his captured colleagues, including the only woman Faye Turney, smiling, and with bowls of fruit and flowers in front of them.
In the first footage of the group aired on Wednesday, Turney was also shown saying that they had trespassed into Iranian waters.
“Using our military personnel for purposes of propaganda like this is outrageous,” a spokesman for the Foreign Office in London said.
Britain has already frozen most diplomatic ties with Iran over the crisis, a move Iran blamed for its decision not to free Turney as promised earlier this week.
The Security Council on Thursday expressed “grave concern” at Iran’s continued detention of the 15 although it failed to back Britain and demand their immediate release.
The capture of the Britons has dramatically increased tensions between the Islamic republic and the West which are already at loggerheads over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme.
They were seized in Gulf waters a day before the Security Council adopted tough new sanctions on Iran for failing to freeze uranium enrichment, a process at the centre of fears Tehran might be secretly trying to build atomic weapons.
Ankara has been trying to mediate in the crisis, but on Friday Ahmadinejad was quoted as telling Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Britain must apologise.
“In recent years British forces have violated international law and crossed the Iranian border. Britain should apologise to Iran,” he was quoted as saying by state television.
Britain said it was giving “serious consideration” to a diplomatic note from Iran which condemned the sailors’ “illegal act” but did not call for an apology.
Iran “protests strongly against this illegal act in violating Iranian territorial waters (and) underlines the responsibility of the British government for the consequences,” said the note.
Iran has however said it will examine “in a positive way” to a Turkish request to free Turney and for the Turkish ambassador to see the Britons.
Tehran initially said the female sailor would be released “within a day or two,” but backed off on Thursday, citing Britain’s “incorrect” attitude after London announced the suspension of ties and took the dispute to the
After more than four hours of haggling and strong Russian reservations, the Security Council voiced “grave concern” and urged Tehran to allow “consular access” to the Britons who are being held in a secret location.
The council called for “an early resolution of the problem, including the release” of the 15.
But Britain had wanted to to call for the sailors’ “immediate release” and to note they were in Iraqi waters when detained.
Iran responded by accusing the Council of being “exploited” and insisted the sailors “had violated the internationally recognised border between Iran and
Britain insists the 15 were in Iraqi waters carrying out routine anti-smuggling operations when the were seized.
“We will send a signal of solidarity on this issue and we will try to find the language which conveys this,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
Germany, as current EU president has already expressed support for Britain’s case as has EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and French
President Jacques Chirac.
Both Britain and Iran have produced maps and global positioning system (GPS) coordinates to back their cases over where the sailors were when they were seized.
Britain has called the detentions an “ambush” and said Iran had changed the GPS coordinates of the two British patrol boats to make it appear they were in Iranian waters.
T he United States, which has been conducting naval exercises in the Gulf involving two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, reiterated its strong backing for its British ally.
“I think they need to be released and the international community needs to say to Iran that they need to be released and that is what we’re doing,” Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice told US television.
Iran meanwhile released the text of a second letter written by Turney in which she was quoted as saying that British troops should leave Iraq.
“Isn’t it time to start withdrawing our forces from Iraq and let them determine their own future?” Turney was quoted as saying in the letter to her member of parliament.
London was quick to condemn the letter, with Beckett calling it “outrageous and cruel”.