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Britain, Iran Exchange Diplomatic Letters Over Sailor Detention Impasse

  • Tom Rivers

Britain says it has replied to a statement by Iran regarding the 15 British naval personnel, who are now in their ninth day of Iranian detention. For VOA News, Tom Rivers has more from London.

Britain formally responded Saturday to a letter the Iranian foreign ministry delivered two days earlier to the British Embassy in Tehran.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, who is attending a European Union meeting in Bremen, Germany, did not provide any details of either letter but did express her hope the issue would be settled peacefully.

"One never [publishes] such notes and so I cannot say to you [very] much about the proposals," she said. "All I would say to you is that what we are endeavoring to do is as we have done from the beginning, to encourage Iran to move to a way to peacefully resolve this issue. We continue to seek knowledge of where our people are held, access to them and a speedy and safe resolution of the issue."

According to the Iranian news agency (IRNA), Iran's letter sought guarantees from Britain that the violations of its territorial waters would not be repeated.

Britain maintains its naval personnel were in Iraqi waters when their vessel was seized by Iran.

Meanwhile, a senior Iranian official has told a Russian television station that a legal process is under way in the case of the 15 British navy personnel.

"If there is no guilt they will be freed," Iran's ambassador to Moscow, Gholam-Reza Ansari, told Russian television channel Vesti-24 in comments aired late Friday.

Iran's official IRNA news agency earlier carried a report saying Ansari had said the Britons could face trial. But IRNA later said Ansari denied the reported remarks, blaming a faulty translation.

A two-week national holiday concludes in Iran on Tuesday. In her remarks in Bremen, Foreign Secretary Beckett expressed the hope that the end of the holiday could signal the beginning of more intense diplomatic activity to settle the matter.

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