LONDON (AFP) -Iran’s ambassador to London was on Saturday summoned to hear a new demand from Britain for the release of 15 British naval personnel seized by Iranian forces in the Gulf, the Foreign Office said.
Junior foreign minister Lord David Triesman met Rasoul Movahedian at the ministry for about one hour Saturday morning in what a spokesman told AFP were “frank, but polite” talks about the 14 men and one woman’s detention.
“He (Triesman) reiterated the United Kingdom’s demand for the immediate release of the detained personnel and their equipment,” he added.
Further meetings would demand on developments, the spokesman said. Movahedian met a senior civil servant at the Foreign Office on Friday, soon after the 15 were seized while conducting “routine” anti-smuggling operations.
Meanwhile, families and colleagues of the eight Royal Navy sailors and seven Royal Marines faced an anxious wait for news.
The semi-official Fars news agency in Iran said the 15 had been taken to Tehran for questioning and had admitted illegally entering Iranian territorial waters. London insists they were in Iraqi territory at the time.
All are stationed aboard the British warship HMS Cornwall, which is the base for coalition maritime security patrols in the northern Gulf area.
BBC television reporter Ian Pannell, who is on board the ship, told the broadcaster’s News 24 channel Saturday that there was a “high level of anxiety” among the crew over the fate of their colleagues.
“The attitude at the moment is that they are looking at this previous incident and they’re hoping this will be resolved in a similar manner,” he added, referring to an incident in 2004 when Iran seized eight British troops.
The eight were detained whilst training Iraqi forces on the Shatt al-Arab, blindfolded and paraded before Iranian television cameras, then released after three days.
“However, they are also aware that there is now a different president in Iran and diplomatic relations are at a different stage,” Pannell said.
“They are hoping they will be released… but I think if you look at the statements that have come out of Tehran and also London, it doesn’t seem to be heading in that direction.”
Newspapers Saturday speculated that Iran may be using the 15 as a bargaining chip as the United Nations prepares to vote on new sanctions against Tehran over its disputed nuclear programme.