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Blair: Sailors' Capture Is 'Unjustified'

Beckett reiterated that the sailors and marines had been searching for smugglers in Iraqi waters under an agreement with the Baghdad government when they were seized by the naval forces of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, the Foreign Office said.

"The Iranian authorities intercepted these sailors and marines in Iranian waters and detained them in Iranian waters. This has happened in the past, as well," Mottaki said.

The Iranian state news agency IRNA said that Ibrahim Rahimpour, the foreign ministry official in charge of western Europe, had told British Ambassador Geoffrey Adams that the British sailors and marines were "well and sound" and that "legal proceedings" were under way.

Iran's top military official, Gen. Ali Reza Afshar, said on Saturday the seized Britons were taken to Tehran for questioning and had confessed to what he called an "aggression into the Islamic Republic of Iran's waters."

The capture and detention of the British service personnel increased tensions between Iran and the West already high over Tehran's nuclear program and allegations that Iran is interfering with the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

The U.N. Security Council agreed Saturday to tougher sanctions against Iran for its refusal to meet U.N. demands that it halt uranium enrichment. Many in the West fear the country's civilian nuclear research is cover for a weapons program, a claim Iran denies.

Iranian hard-liners have already called for the 15 Britons to be held until Iran wins concessions from the West.

British, Israeli and Saudi media reports on Sunday suggested that Iran was hoping to trade them for Iranian officials it claims have been abducted by the West in recent months.

Ali Askari, former head of an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guard, disappeared in Turkey six weeks ago; several months earlier, six Iranian officials were captured by U.S. forces an Iranian liaison office in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish self-ruled region of Iraq. One was later released.

Iran said it was a government liaison office. The U.S. military said those detained were connected to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard unit that funds and arms insurgents in Iraq.

Sobh-e-Sadegh, the official publication of the Revolutionary Guards, said in a January article that it would be easy to kidnap Americans and transfer them to "any location of choice" in retaliation for any attack.

According to IRNA's English-language Web site, Adams said during the meeting in Tehran that the British service members had been deployed in Iraq to establish security, and had no hostile intention toward Iran.


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© 2007 The Associated Press