U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon met Iran's foreign minister Thursday in the world body's first direct intercession in the escalating standoff between Iran and Britain over the Tehran's detention of 15 British sailors and marines.
Nearly a week after the crew's capture off the Iran-Iraq coast, the two countries remained at loggerheads. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki demanded Britain acknowledge its personnel entered Iranian waters as a way to resolve the standoff.
But Britain insisted on Thursday that the crew was seized in an Iraqi-controlled area. A Foreign Office official in London said no admission would be forthcoming because "the detention is completely wrong, illegal and unacceptable and we've set out the reasons why."
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department policy, pointed to satellite positioning coordinates released by the defense ministry on Wednesday that the military said showed the crew was seized 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters.
Ban met with Mottaki on the sidelines of an Arab summit in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, that both were attending. Ban's spokeswoman, Soung-Ah Choi, said the U.N. secretary-general was addressing a number of issues in the talks and that the detention of the Britons was among them. She would not give immediate details on the talks, which were still ongoing.
Tensions over the detention escalated Wednesday as Iranian television showed video of the detained Britons that showed the only woman captive saying her group had "trespassed" in Iranian waters. Britain angrily denounced the video as unacceptable and froze most dealings with the Mideast nation.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Mottaki also backed off a prediction that the female sailor, Faye Turney, could be freed Wednesday or Thursday, but said Tehran agreed to allow British officials to meet with the detainees.
He said that Iran will look into releasing Turney "as soon as possible."
Mottaki said that if the alleged entry into Iranian waters was a mistake "this can be solved. But they have to show that it was a mistake. That will help us to end this issue."
"Admitting the mistake will facilitate a solution to the problem," he said. Mottaki said Iran had GPS devices from the seized British boats that showed they were in Iranian territory.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government announced it was freezing all dealings with Iran except to negotiate the release of its personnel, adding to a public exchange of sharp comments that helped fuel a spike in world oil prices.
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