Source AP ©

Syria mediates in dispute over British sailors seized by Iran

Syria is mediating the dispute between Britain and Iran over the detained 15 British sailors and marines, the Syrian foreign minister was quoted as saying in a Kuwaiti newspaper Wednesday.

"This solution needs quiet diplomacy and Syria is now undertaking such quiet diplomacy between the two countries," Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told the paper Al-Anba in an interview in Damascus. "We hope for a satisfactory solution that will lead to resolving the crisis of the British soldiers held captive in Iran."

Al-Moallem did not elaborate on the steps his ministry is taking to resolve the confrontation that began March 23 when the Iranian navy detained the sailors and marines as they conducted an anti-smuggling patrol in the northern Gulf. Iran claims the Britons strayed into its waters, but Britain insists they were in Iraqi waters.

Syria has long been the Arab country closest to Iran, a non-Arab state. The two countries have moved toward each other as they were shunned by the United States and the European Union for their alleged interference in Iraq and Lebanon, and their support of Palestinian militant groups regarded as terrorist in the West.

Britain and Iran have indicated in the past two days that moves are afoot to resolve the crisis. The office of British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday that the two sides "share a desire for an early resolution of this issue through direct talks," and Iran signaled that the atmosphere for talks had improved.

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