( AP ) - The European Union called on Iran to immediately and unconditionally release 15 British sailors and marines and warned of undefined "appropriate measures" if Tehran does not comply.
A statement from the gathered EU foreign ministers in Bremen, Germany, supported British Prime Minister Tony Blair's statements that the naval personnel were not in Iranian waters when they were seized a week ago after they searched a civilian vessel.
The ministers also called on Iran in a statement to "immediately inform" the British government about the whereabouts of the captives and give British diplomats access to them -- a British request that Iran so far has denied.
The EU statement read, "all evidence clearly indicates that at the time of the seizure, the British naval personnel were on a routine patrolling mission in Iraqi waters" in accordance with a United Nations mandate.
The seizure, the statement said, "therefore constitutes a clear breach of international law."
"The European Union repeats its call for the immediate and unconditional release of the British Royal Naval personnel."
If the British sailors are not released, the EU "will decide on appropriate measures," the statement said without elaborating.
The crisis over the seizure of the sailors comes at a time when Iran's relations with the international community are strained over Tehran's nuclear enrichment program, although EU diplomats were loath to connect the two issues.
The U.N. on Saturday toughened sanctions on Iran over its failure to comply with the demand that it freeze enrichment of uranium, which can be used for nuclear weapons as well as generation of power.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said a letter from Iran on the detention of 15 British sailors and marines had done nothing to bring the standoff closer to resolution.
"There is nothing in the letter to suggest that the Iranians are looking for a way out," Beckett said in a BBC interview in which she also accused Tehran of using the detained British service members for "blatant propaganda" purposes.
"It is quite appalling and it is completely contrary to normal international convention to use people who are detained against their will, who have been detained for days now, to whom consular access is denied ... to use them for blatant propaganda in this way. I am quite horrified," Beckett said, according to a transcript of the interview.
Despite the strong words in the statement, some European diplomats warned against unnecessarily blocking normal relations with Iran and thereby escalating the dispute.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, who did not attend the Bremen conference, said it was important to avoid unnecessary escalation.
"We must put very strong pressure on the Iranians," Douste-Blazy said in a radio interview in Paris. "I think we must avoid confrontation and escalation."
"Today, there is no freeze" in relations, Douste-Blazy said.
Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn appeared to echo that stand, saying on German public radio that "we must watch out ... that we are not always outbidding each other with sanctions or talking about freezing relations."
"I believe we are very much in solidarity with Britain in this case," Asselborn said. We must naturally do everything we can to put on the necessary brakes, so that it doesn't explode."