( AP ) - Iran said Tuesday the 15 detained British sailors and marines it holds are healthy and are being treated in a humane fashion.
"They are in completely good health. Rest assured that they have been treated with humanitarian and moral behavior," Mohammad Ali Hosseini, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, told The Associated Press.
Hosseini said the only female sailor among the group enjoyed complete privacy. "Definitely all ethics have been observed," he said.
The official did not say where the marines were being kept and reiterated that their case is under investigation.
"The case should follow procedures," Hosseini said. "Media hyperbole will not help (speed things up)."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday said Britain hopes that diplomacy will win the service members' release but is prepared to move to a "different phase" if not.
Asked what that meant, Blair told GMTV: "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 U.N. mandate, patrolling perfectly rightly and in accordance with that mandate, and then effectively captured and taken to Iran."
Iran said Monday it was questioning the British sailors and marines to determine if their alleged entry into Iranian waters was "intentional or unintentional" before deciding what to do with them - the first sign it could be seeking a way out of the standoff.
A British reporter embedded with the Royal Navy reported in The Independent newspaper that the incident began when the sailors and marines approached a Japanese merchant ship suspected of smuggling second-hand cars into Iraq without paying tax.
That could not be immediately confirmed with U.S., Iraqi or British officials.
Blair said his primary concern was the welfare of the British sailors and Marines.
"What we are trying to do at the moment is to pursue this through the diplomatic channels and make the Iranian government understand these people have to be released and that there is absolutely no justification whatever for holding them."
Calls for the release of the Britons also have come from the European Union, Iraq and the United States, under whose command the military search team was serving. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the personnel were seized in Iraqi waters and should be released.
A 1975 treaty between Iran and Iraq set their border as running down the center of the Shatt al-Arab, but Saddam Hussein canceled the treaty before invading Iran in 1980 and setting of a devastating war. Iran claims the border runs along the deepest parts of the river.