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Britain Demands Captured Sailors' Release, Seeks UN Support

No quick solution is in sight for the tense dispute over Iran's seizure of a British naval crew. After negotiations, the U.N. Security Council expressed "grave concern" and called for an early resolution of the problem including the sailors' release. The United States is also backing the demand for the captives' immediate release, while at the same time continuing diplomatic efforts aimed at getting Iran to agree to negotiations over its nuclear work. VOA's Sean Maroney reports.

Britain has repeated its demand that the captured sailors must be released immediately and unconditionally, and the Foreign Office in London is asking the United Nations to condemn Iran's actions.

After Iranian forces seized the 15 British naval personnel last week, Tehran said the British crew had sailed into Iranian waters. Britain maintains, and it has released satellite-positioning data to confirm, that the sailors were in Iraqi territory, and had not strayed across Iran's maritime border.

Britain has since frozen what it calls all "official bilateral business" with Iran, apart from efforts to win the detainees' release.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department's Nicholas Burns says NATO countries are united in their support for the British. "All of us hope that Iran will make the right decision and release these people," he said, "because they're entirely innocent and they were operating under United Nations authority as part of the multinational coalition, and they were clearly inside Iraqi waters."

The United States' top career diplomat also is closely involved in the international effort to get Iran to join negotiations over its controversial nuclear program. Burns told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.S. is continuing its multilateral diplomatic approach to the Iranian nuclear standoff.

In the Persian Gulf, meanwhile, U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups have been holding a major military exercise this week. The commanding officer of the USS Eisenhower, Captain Dan Cloyd, says the maneuvers are not linked to the abduction of the British naval crew.

"What we're doing here is more about demonstrating our capability, our commitment [and] our resolve," he said.

U.S. diplomat Burns says global economic sanctions against Iran are the best way to pressure the leadership in Tehran to agree to negotiations on the nuclear dispute.

"They don't want to be isolated," he noted. "They don't want to live the way the North Koreans have lived. They want to integrate, and they want investment capital. And they want trade with Europe and the Arab world."

The economic sanctions are aimed at the Iranian government. Burns says the United States is committed to friendly relations with the Iranian people.

"The Iranian people are among the most pro-American of all the people in the Middle East," he said. "So Congress was good enough to give us last year $75 million to expand our Persian-language VOA TV, to expand our Persian-language radio into Iran [and] to allow us to create websites that are key to each of the regions of Iran, [so] we can talk to people."

Iran had promised to release one of the British sailors -- the only woman among the detainees. But that gesture did not take place. Top Iranian officials say the young woman's release was suspended because of what they call "wrong behavior" by Britain, along with so-called interference by other countries.