Iran offers conditional access to captured Britons

Iran has offered to allow British officials access to the 15 Royal Navy personnel captured in the Gulf last week, but only if the UK admits that they had strayed into Iranian waters.

However, Britain has stated that the HMS Cornwall - the vessel that the personnel were attached to - was in Iraqi waters when Iranian forces seized the Britons on Friday.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has held talks with Iran's Foreign Minister during a summit of Arab leaders in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh.

On Wednesday, television footage of the Britons was shown on Iranian television. Leading Seaman Faye Turney, 26 - the only woman among the eight sailors and seven marines captured - was interviewed. She was wearing a headscarf and admitted that the personnel had apparently crossed into Iranian waters. She also said that their captors were friendly and hospitable.

The party from HMS Cornwall was taking part in a routine operation in the Shatt Al Arab waterway when an Iranian naval force detained them.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Defence released evidence confirming that the personnel were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi territory when they were seized.

Vice Admiral Charles Style revealed the exact co-ordinates of the HMS Cornwall at the time the 15 personnel were seized at a news conference on Wednesday and said that the MoD "unambiguously contested" Iran's claims that the vessel had strayed into Iranian waters.

He said that the Britons had been "ambushed" and described their capture as "unjustified and wrong".

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the detention of the Britons was "completely unacceptable, wrong and illegal" and said that it was time to "ratchet up the diplomatic and international pressure on the Iranian government."


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