Iran says sailors could face spy charge

Iran's seizure of 15 British sailors and marines three days ago appeared to be spiraling toward a full-blown diplomatic crisis Sunday after Iranians signaled that the captives could be tried for espionage.

Iran says sailors could face spy charge

Amid reports that the 15 Britons had been taken to Tehran, the BBC reported Sunday that Iranian officials were refusing to tell British Ambassador Geoffrey Adams where the captives were being held or to allow him access to them.

The 15 were seized at gunpoint while conducting routine inspections of cargo ships off the coast of Iraq. Iran claims the British sailors had unlawfully strayed into Iranian territorial waters. The commander of the British ship Cornwall, who was in charge of the inspection operation, insists all of his sailors and vessels were in Iraqi waters.

Sunday, he was backed up by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"It is simply not true that they went into Iranian territorial waters, and I hope the Iranian government understands how fundamental an issue this is for us," Blair said.

"We have certainly sent the message back to them very clearly indeed. They should not be under any doubt at all about how seriously we regard this act, which is unjustified and wrong," said the prime minister, adding he wanted the crisis "resolved in as easy and diplomatic a way as possible."

But that opportunity seemed to be slipping away. A Web site associated with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the Britons could be charged with espionage.

"If that is proved, they can expect a very serious penalty because according to Iranian law, espionage is one of the most serious offenses," the Web site said.

The incident comes at a tense time in Western relations with Iran. The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Saturday to impose stiff new sanctions on Iran in response to Tehran's refusal to suspend its uranium-enrichment program.

Iran announced Sunday that it was partially suspending cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16