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Britain Freezes Business with Iran Until British Sailors Released


Britain has announced it is freezing all bilateral business with Iran, except efforts to gain the release of 15 British naval personnel seized by Iranian forces last Friday. As VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London, details released by the British military indicate its forces were inside Iraqi, not Iranian territorial waters, when the incident occurred.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett told the House of Commons the government would focus all its bilateral efforts with Iran toward gaining the release of the British sailors.

"We will therefore be imposing a freeze on all other official bilateral business with Iran until this situation is resolved," she said. "We will keep other aspects of our policy with Iran under close review and continue to proceed carefully."

Beckett's announcement is part of stepped-up activity by Britain to pressure Iran to release the naval crew.

Earlier in the day, Vice Admiral Charles Style presented maps and coordinates, from positioning satellites, of the British patrol boats and the merchant vessel the British personnel had just finished searching when they were seized by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

"The position was 29 degrees, 50.36 minutes north; 48 degrees, 43.08 minutes east, and this places her 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi territorial waters," he said.

The vice admiral said the Iranians provided two different coordinates where they said the British patrol boats were. He said the first ones still showed the boats in Iraqi waters, while the second, "corrected" coordinates showed them to be inside Iranian waters.

Style described the detention of the British naval crew as an ambush.

Speaking in parliament, Prime Minister Tony Blair said there was no justification for the detention of the British sailors.

"It was completely unacceptable, wrong and illegal," he said. "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 their total isolation on this issue."

Iran insists the patrol boats were inside Iranian waters. The Iranians have said the British naval personnel are being treated well, but they have not allowed British consular officials access to them.