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Iranian Diplomat Says No Reason to Try British Sailors

Iran's chief international negotiator on Monday called for an end to "the language of force" in the dispute over 15 British sailors captured in contested waters of the Persian Gulf and said there was no need to put the crew on trial.

The comments from Ali Larijani, who last week had suggested that the crew "may face a legal path," came as both Iran and Britain appeared to be seeking a way to soften their approach to the dispute. Earlier Monday, Iranian state radio said there would be no more broadcasts of the detained crew, though it said all 15 captive Britons had admitted illegally entering Iranian waters.

And in London, an official said Britain had agreed to consider discussing with Iran how to avoid future disputes over contested waters in the Persian Gulf. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the dispute.

Larijani said his country's priority "is to solve the problem through proper diplomatic channels."

"We are not interested in letting this issue get further complicated," he told Britain's Channel 4 television news. "We definitely believe that this issue can be resolved and there is no need for any trial."

Britain contends the sailors were in Iraqi waters, however, and has refused Iranian demands for an apology. It has also criticized the airing of footage of four of the sailors confessing so far, saying the statements appeared coerced and the broadcasting of captured military personnel violated international norms.

Larijani, the top Iranian negotiator in all his country's foreign dealings, had suggested last week that the eight sailors and seven marines might be put on trial. Iranian television has aired footage of several of the crew members appearing to admit that they trespassed in Iraqi waters.

Larijani called for all involved to stop using "the language of force."

"There is a difference of view between the UK government and the Iranian government, and this issue should be resolved bilaterally," he said.

On Britain's part, "a guarantee must be given that such violation will not be repeated," he added,

Larijani also called for a delegation "to review the case, to clarify the case, first of all -- to clarify whether they have been in our territorial waters at all." He did not say who might be in such a delegation.

"Through sensationalism, you cannot solve the problem," he said.

In video Sunday, the captives appeared on the state-run Arabic-language TV channel Al-Alam in separate clips, pointing at the same map of the Persian Gulf.

The first sailor, who was identified as Royal Marine Capt. Chris Air, said the Iranians supplied the group with GPS coordinates which he said were "apparently" in Iranian waters.

Air pointed with a pen to a location on the map where he said two boats left a warship of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq around 8:30 am on March 23. He said the seven marines and eight navy sailors were captured around 10 am.

He said "we were seized apparently at this point here on their maps and on the GPS they've shown us, which is inside Iranian territorial waters."

The second sailor, identified as Lt. Felix Carman, pointed to an area on the map and said that location was where he and the 14 others were arrested.

"I'd like to say to the Iranian people, I can understand why you are so angry about our intrusion into your waters," he said.

Britain has released its own maps and GPS coordinates showing their location to be in Iraqi waters at the time of the capture.

In a letter sent in response to a note from Iranian officials, Britain agreed to consider discussions about how to avoid similar disputes in the future, said the British official. Britain's response -- most of which has been kept secret -- may have prompted the report Monday from Iran's state-run radio.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman earlier in the day called the broadcast confessions "stage-managed," and said Britain had not changed its demand for the sailors' unconditional release.

The 15 Britons were detained by Iranian naval units on March 23 while patrolling for smugglers as part of a U.N.-mandated force monitoring the Persian Gulf. They were seized by Iranian naval units near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab, a waterway that has long been a disputed dividing line between Iraq and Iran.

Al-Alam broadcast longer videos of the Britons earlier this week, including footage on Friday of captured marine Nathan Thomas Summers apologizing for entering Iranian waters "without permission" and admitting to trespassing in Iranian waters.

Al-Alam also aired video on Wednesday showing Faye Turney, the only woman in the group, wearing a headscarf and saying: "Obviously we trespassed." Iran has also made public three letters purportedly written by Turney. The last letter contained an apology.

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