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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blair Hopes Talks Will Secure Sailors' Release

LONDON -- Britain hopes that diplomacy will win the release of 15 sailors and marines detained by Iran but is prepared to move to a "different phase" if negotiations fail, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday.

Britain has said its navy crew was seized Friday just after they completed a search of a civilian vessel in the Iraqi part of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, where the border with Iran is disputed.

"I hope we manage to get [the Iranian government] to realize they have to release them," Blair said in a television interview. "If not, then this will move into a different phase."

Asked to elaborate, Blair said: "Well, we will just have to see, but what they should understand is that we cannot have a situation where our servicemen and women are seized when actually they are in Iraqi waters under a UN mandate, patrolling perfectly rightly and in accordance with that mandate, and then effectively captured and taken to Iran."

A spokesman for Blair said later that the prime minister was not hinting either at the possible expulsion of Iranian diplomats or military action.

But Blair's office said officials would have to make public evidence proving that the Britons were seized in Iraqi -- not Iranian -- waters, if there is no swift release of the sailors and marines.

"We want to resolve this quickly without having a public confrontation with them, but as the prime minister said, we want to resolve it. If we cannot resolve it quickly, then maybe we have to be more explicit," said the spokesman, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity.

The spokesman said Britain had not made explicit its belief that the sailors were in Iraqi territory "because we don't want to escalate this." He declined to say whether Iran had been shown any evidence.

Blair said his primary concern was the welfare of the navy personnel.

Iran said Tuesday that the 15 member crew was healthy and was being treated well, and that the crew's only female member, Faye Turney, had been given privacy.