Iran urges diplomacy over seized Britons

Iran said tonight it hoped to resolve the seized British Navy personnel crisis using diplomacy and without putting the captives on trial.

Iran said tonight it hoped to resolve the seized British Navy personnel crisis using diplomacy and without putting the captives on trial.

Downing Street insisted it would not be swayed by “stage-managed TV appearances” as new footage of the 15 captured sailors and marines was aired on Iranian television today.

But in an apparent softening of tone Tehran avoided broadcasting more “confessions” by the detainees, and praised “positive changes” in the UK negotiating stance.

There were also reports Britain may be willing to discuss wider territorial issues to secure the release of the service personnel, who have now been held for 11 days.

The developments raised hopes of a resolution to the stand-off, with an expected press conference tomorrow by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad likely to be crucial.

Tonight Dr Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), said his priority was to resolve the matter by diplomatic means.

He called for a delegation to review the alleged violation of Iranian waters and an assurance that such an incident would not be repeated.

But he insisted that the Iranians were “100%” sure of their case and warned that the “language of force” used by the UK and international allies was prolonging the crisis.

Dr Larijani told Channel 4 News through a translator: “Definitely our priority would not be trial, except that the UK Government would be insisting on not solving the problem through diplomatic channels.

“Our priority is to solve the problem through diplomatic channels. We are not interested in having this issue get further complicated.”

Tony Blair’s official spokesman said there was “a lot going on behind the scenes”, and the current public holiday season in Iran had “inevitably impacted a bit” on the process.

The UK had replied to an initial note delivered to the British embassy, and were now waiting for Tehran’s response, he added.

He said: “The Iranians know our position. They know that stage-managed TV appearances aren’t going to affect our position.”

Earlier Iranian state TV claimed all 15 of the captured personnel – 14 men and one woman – had now admitted intruding into Iranian territory.

In response the Foreign Office reaffirmed that they were seized in Iraqi waters and were being detained against their will.

The fresh images broadcast this morning showed several more of the captives. Their voices are not audible and some of them are seen smiling.

Last night footage was shown of two of the men apparently “confessing” to trespassing into Iranian waters.

The pair, named as Royal Marine Captain Chris Air and Lieutenant Felix Carman, were standing in front of a large map of the Persian Gulf and looked in good condition, wearing clean smart military fatigues.

Capt Air, who appeared first, said they had been shown on a GPS unit that they had been seized inside Iranian waters.

He said: “So far we have been treated very well by all the people here. They have looked after us and made sure we are given enough food and treated very well by them, so I thank them for that.”

Lt Carman said he would like to tell the Iranian people: “I can understand why you are so angry about our intrusion into your waters.”

Today the parents of one of the 15, Royal Marine Mark Banks, said their son was “strong and determined”.

Penny Banks, 49, and her husband Allistair, 52, said many people were “incredibly proud” of 24-year-old Mark, who has been a Marine for around three years.

Mr and Mrs Banks, of Lowestoft, Suffolk, said in a statement: “Mark is a very strong and determined lad and we hope he is drawing strength and courage in the knowledge that he has so many people that are incredibly proud of him.”

The parents of Capt Air, Robin and Sally, and his younger brothers Rick, 23, and Stuart, 19, spoke of their pride in him in a statement, adding: “The pictures released last night showing Chris actually brought us some comfort, even though we also hold to the belief that it is a wrong action by the Iranian authorities.”

Lt Carman’s mother spoke of her fears for her 26-year-old son after seeing him in the footage broadcast on Iranian television yesterday.

Alison Carman, who lives near Swansea, told London’s Evening Standard newspaper: “It was a shock to see him on TV but we were glad to see he looked fit and well.”

Film of two other members of the group has already been shown on Iranian TV.

Leading Seaman Faye Turney has featured in several videos, while letters purportedly written by her have been released, and Royal Marine Nathan Thomas Summers was shown “apologising” for entering Iranian waters “without permission”.

The group were captured after conducting a routine early morning anti-smuggling check on a merchant vessel on Friday, March 23.

US President George Bush has publicly backed Prime Minister Tony Blair’s efforts to resolve the situation peacefully, calling the capture “inexcusable behaviour”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Britain had the “full solidarity” of the European Union.

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