( AP ) - U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon met Iran's foreign minister Thursday in the world body's first direct intercession in the escalating standoff between Iran and Britain over the Tehran's detention of 15 British sailors and marines.
Nearly a week after the crew's capture off the Iran- Iraq coast, the two countries remained at loggerheads. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki demanded Britain acknowledge its personnel entered Iranian waters as a way to resolve the standoff.
But Britain insisted on Thursday that the crew was seized in an Iraqi-controlled area. A Foreign Office official in London said no admission would be forthcoming because "the detention is completely wrong, illegal and unacceptable and we've set out the reasons why."
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department policy, pointed to the satellite positioning coordinates released by the Defense Ministry on Wednesday that the military said showed the crew was seized 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters.
Ban met with Mottaki on the sidelines of an Arab summit in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, that both were attending. Ban's spokeswoman, Soung-Ah Choi, said the U.N. secretary-general was addressing a number of issues in the talks and that the detention of the Britons was among them. She would not give immediate details on the talks, which were still ongoing.
Tensions over the detention escalated Wednesday as Iranian television showed video of the detained Britons that showed the only female captive saying her group had "trespassed" in Iranian waters. Britain angrily denounced the video as unacceptable and froze most dealings with the Mideast nation.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Mottaki also backed off a prediction that the female sailor, Faye Turney, could be freed Wednesday or Thursday, but said Tehran agreed to allow British officials to meet with the detainees.
He said that Iran will look into releasing Turney "as soon as possible."
Mottaki said that if the alleged entry into Iranian waters was a mistake "this can be solved. But they have to show that it was a mistake. That will help us to end this issue."
Mottaki said Iran had GPS devices from the seized British boats that showed they were in Iranian territory.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government announced Wednesday it was freezing all dealings with Iran except to negotiate the release of its personnel, adding to a public exchange of sharp comments that helped fuel a spike in world oil prices.
Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency on Thursday quoted a government official as playing down the consequences of the British freeze. "Tehran-London relations were already cold," the agency quoted an unidentified official as saying.
At the United Nations in New York, Britain asked the Security Council to support a call for the immediate release of detainees, saying in a statement they were operating in Iraqi waters under a mandate from the Security Council and at the request of Iraq, according to council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the text was not released. The issue was expected to be debated Thursday.
Earlier Wednesday, a brief video of the captured Britons was shown on Iran's Arabic language satellite television station, Al-Alam.
One segment showed sailors and marines sitting in an Iranian boat in open waters immediately after their capture.
The video also displayed what appeared to be a handwritten letter from Turney, 26, to her family.
"I have written a letter to the Iranian people to apologize for us entering their waters," it said. The letter also asks Turney's parents in Britain to look after her 3-year-old daughter, Molly, and her husband, Adam.
The video showed Turney in checkered head scarf and her uniform eating with other sailors and marines. Later, wearing a white tunic and black head scarf, she sat in a room before floral curtains and smoked a cigarette.
Turney was the only detainee to be shown speaking, giving her name and saying she had been in the navy for nine years.
"Obviously we trespassed into their waters," Turney said at one point. "They were very friendly and very hospitable, very thoughtful, nice people. They explained to us why we've been arrested. There was no harm, no aggression."
Before the video was broadcast, a spokesman for Blair said any showing of British personnel on TV would be a breach of the Geneva Conventions.
After the footage was aired, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said she was "very concerned about these pictures and any indication of pressure on, or coercion of, our personnel. ... I am particularly disappointed that a private letter has been used in a way which can only add to the distress of the families."
The third Geneva Convention bans subjecting prisoners of war to intimidation, insults or "public curiosity." Because there is no armed conflict between Iran and Britain, the captives would not technically be classified as prisoners of war.
Blair told the House of Commons that "we had hoped to see their immediate release."
"This has not happened. It is now time to ratchet up the diplomatic and international pressure in order to make sure the Iranian government understands its total isolation on this issue," he said.
Beckett said Britain would focus all its efforts on resolving the issue.
"We will, therefore, be imposing a freeze on all other official bilateral business with Iran until the situation is resolved," she said.
The statement appeared to refer to diplomatic dealings rather than business relations, but Britain's Department of Trade said the country does not buy oil directly from Iran.
Oil prices rose by more than $1 a barrel Wednesday to a six-month high amid worries about the standoff, which came as the U.S. Navy is carrying out its largest show of force in the Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
President Bush discussed the 15 Britons with Blair over a secured video conference call Wednesday, White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said. "The president fully backs Tony Blair and our allies in Britain," she said.
British officials have said the 15 Britons were taken captive after completing a search of a civilian ship near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which forms the border between Iran and Iraq.