Iran warns of serious action against UK yachtsmen

Tue Dec 1, 2009 5:51pm EST
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By Hossein Jaseb and Keith Weir

TEHRAN/LONDON (Reuters) - Iran will take serious measures against five British yachtsmen detained in the Gulf if it proves they had "evil intentions", a close aide to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday.

Relations between Britain and Iran have been dogged by tension in recent years over a range of issues, from Tehran's nuclear program to Iranian allegations of British involvement in post-election violence in June this year.

"The judiciary will decide about the five ... naturally our measures will be hard and serious if we find out they had evil intentions," Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie, the president's chief of staff, told the semi-official Fars news agency.

Britain stressed the five men, detained on November 25, were civilians and played down parallels with an incident in March 2007 when Iran seized eight British Royal Navy sailors and seven marines off its coast.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband held talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki late on Tuesday and he repeated his call for formal consular access to the men and their speedy release.

"He (Miliband) pressed Mr Mottaki for clear information on what had happened and for a statement of Iranian intentions in respect of the five," a Foreign Office spokesman said in a statement.

It added that Mottaki undertook to get a response "at the earliest possible opportunity".

Ahmadinejad gave an extended interview to Iran's state television on Tuesday but made no mention of the Britons.   Continued...

<p>The yacht that was crewed by five Britons when they were detained by Iranian officials is seen in this undated handout image received in London on December 1, 2009. REUTERS/Team Pindar/Handout</p>