Iran hints at diplomatic solution to naval dispute

Iran has suggested a diplomatic resolution to the ongoing ‘hostage’ crisis is possible, providing the UK admits it entered into Iranian waters.

Ali Larijani, head of Iran’s supreme national security council, said it was Tehran’s priority to settle the matter through diplomatic channels.

Appearing on Channel 4 News on Monday evening, he said it was not a priority to put the 15 sailors on trial for entering into Iranian waters. “We are not interested in having this issue get further complicated,” he said.

Instead, Iran is inviting a delegation to Tehran to investigate the matter. Mr Larijani insists Iran is “100 per cent sure” the eight sailors and seven marines entered into Iranian waters. He called on the UK to accept this, apologise and produce a guarantee this would not happen again.

The European Union has condemned Iran before all the facts are clear, Mr Larijani insisted, while the UK’s “language of force” is not helping diplomatic efforts.

In a statement, the Foreign Office (FCO) insisted it shared Mr Larijani’s “desire to make early progress”. The FCO is studying the politician’s remarks and will respond shortly.

“There remain some differences between us, but we can confirm we share [Mr Larijani’s] preference for early bilateral discussions to find a diplomatic solution to this problem,” the FCO statement said.

Speaking this morning in Glasgow, Tony Blair agreed the “best way to deal with this is in a diplomatic way”. The UK has two clear tracts, he explained: The first is to settle the issue through “peaceful and calm negotiations” to release the personnel as quickly as possible.

But if this is not possible, the government will take “increasingly tough decisions”, Mr Blair warned. It is now “for the Iranian government to come back with the decision”, he added.

Iran now claims to have footage of all 15 military personnel “confessing” to entering Iranian waters, but yesterday confirmed it would hold off broadcasting these because of “positive changes” in the UK’s negotiations.

However, on Tuesday afternoon it did release new pictures of the 15 sailors seemingly relaxing as a group.

It is thought discussions between the UK and Tehran are now focusing on how a repeat of the situation can be avoided, although the government continues to insist the sailors remained within Iraqi waters, acting on a UN mandate.

Both governments have produced their own “evidence” of the crew’s position, while third parties have pointed out the border between Iran and Iraq is not clearly defined in any case.

However, by insisting it is “absolutely certain” the crew were in Iraqi waters, the UK may have talked itself into a diplomatic impasse, it has been suggested.

Mr Larijani last night called on the UK to be “brave enough” to admit “their mistake, confess to it and leave”.

A planned press conference with Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad has now been postponed. He was due to discuss Iran’s position with foreign and local media.