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Britain to Iran: Show Us Our Sailors - 2004-06-22

Diplomatic tensions between Britain and Iran increased Tuesday after Iranian television said eight British navy crewmen would be prosecuted on charges of illegally entering Iranian waters.

A British spokesman says Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharazi, to raise his concerns about the eight crewmen captured Monday by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said Mr. Kharazi promised that he would personally look into the case.

The spokesman said London wants British diplomats in Iran to be granted access to the captured military men. He said Britain hopes the affair can be resolved as quickly as possible.

The British crewmen were seized Monday along with three Royal Navy patrol boats on the Shatt al-Arab waterway that divides Iraq and Iran. Iranian government television says the British boats were captured in Iranian territorial waters, and authorities intend to put the British crew on trial.

A British military spokesman in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, Major Ian Clooney, said the men were on a training exercise.

"They were doing a routine patrol, as has happened for many months now, as part of the support and training offered to both the Iraqi civil defense corps and the riverine [boat] patrol department, so there was nothing unusual in what they were doing," he said.

The incident is seen as a test of Britain's "constructive engagement" policy toward Iran.

It comes just days after Britain co-sponsored a resolution at International Atomic Energy Agency criticizing Iran for not cooperating fully with international inspections of its nuclear program.

Some diplomatic sources point out the seizures have occurred less than two weeks before the transfer of power in Iraq from the U.S.-led coalition to an Iraqi transitional government.

They say the incident could be related to Iran's long-standing territorial claims to the Shatt al-Arab waterway.