Britain Freezes Business with Iran Until Sailors Released

Britain says it is freezing 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, Iran is hinting at a possible release.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett told the House of Commons the government would focus all its bilateral efforts with Iran on 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, 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.

Iran insists the patrol boats were in Iranian waters.

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."

Speaking on the sidelines of an Arab summit in Saudi Arabia, Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said the issue can be resolved and he said the woman sailor among the 15 detained would be released soon.

"The subject is under consideration and I think it will be solved based on rules and regulations, but the lady will be released very soon," he said.

The Iranians have said the British naval personnel are being treated well.

But British consular officials have not been granted access to them.