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UK to blame: Iran leader

Tehran, March 31 (Reuters): Iran’s President said today the British government was not following “the legal and logical way” over the case of 15 British naval personnel detained last week, Iranian media reported.

“After the arrest of these people, the British government, instead of apologising and expressing regret, over the action taken, started to claim that we are in their debt and shouted in different international councils,” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by state radio.

“But this is not the legal and logical way for this issue,” he said in a speech to a rally in Khuzestan, a province on the Iraqi border area where the Britons were seized.

Ahmadinejad was also quoted repeating Iran’s position that the British sailors and Marines had entered Iranian waters illegally. Britain insists the 15 were in Iraqi territory when they were detained on March 23.

Iran has criticised Britain’s decision to take the case to the UN.

In the same speech quoted by the semi-official Fars News Agency, Ahmadinejad said the Britons “officially entered into Iranian waters and our brave border guards who followed the path of martyrs arrested them”.

The crowd attending the speech chanted “Death to Britain” and held up banners with anti-British slogans, Fars reported.

Get tough: US hawks

Britain’s response to the seizure of its sailors and Marines has been branded weak by Republicans in Washington. John Bolton, until recently the US ambassador to the UN, described the government’s incremental approach as “pathetic”, according to The Times, London.

He said that Blair should be threatening “real pain, real economic sanctions” unless Iran released the sailors immediately. “Britain has got to be tougher here,” he said.

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives and a possible presidential candidate, urged Britain to threaten military force to destroy Iran’s petrol production capacity. If the West used naval power to force Iranians to “go back to walking and using oxen to pull carts”, the people might overthrow the ayatollahs, he suggested.

European foreign ministers last night failed to back Britain in a threat to freeze the euros 14billion trade in exports to Tehran. EU countries called for the sailors to be freed but ruled out any tightening of lucrative export credit rules.

France, Iran’s secondlargest EU trading partner, cautioned that further confrontation with the Tehran regime should be avoided while the Dutch said that it was important not to risk a breakdown in dialogue.

In London, British negotiator Terry Waite, who survived almost five years as a hostage, offered to travel to Iran to help free the 15 British naval personnel.

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