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Iranian Official Denies Report of British Servicewoman's Early Release

Iran's foreign minister backed off a prediction that a detained British servicewoman could be freed Wednesday or Thursday but said Tehran agreed to allow British officials to meet with 15 sailors and marines in Iranian custody.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in an interview with the Associated Press that Britain must admit that its sailors entered Iranian waters for the standoff to be resolved.

His comments were the first confirmation that Iran agreed to a British request for a consular visit with the crew, though he did not specify when. Iran has not said where the 15 are being held.

"We have accepted that (the British request), there is no problem. Measures are underway (to arrange meeting.) They can meet them," he said.

Mottaki said that if the crew's 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."

"First they have to admit that they have made a mistake. Admitting the mistake will facilitate a solution to the problem," Mottaki said in Riyadh, where he was a guest at a summit of Arab leaders. "But unfortunately the British have not admitted their mistake."

Britain has insisted its sailors were in Iraqi waters when they were seized by Iranian vessels and on Wednesday released coordinates of their position it said proved their claim. Mottaki said Iran had GPS devices from the British boats that showed they were in Iranian territory.

The standoff between Iran and Britain over the detained crew escalated Wednesday as British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government announced Wednesday it was freezing all dealings with Iran except to negotiate the release of its personnel. The two country's public exchange of sharp comments over the crew has pushed up tensions in a standoff helping fuel a spike in world oil prices.

Mottaki accused the West of trying to "blackmail" Iran by politicizing its detention of 15 British sailors and marines off the Iraqi-Iranian coast.

"Our policy of the past 27 years has been not to give in to blackmail or pressure. They want to make it a political and propaganda issue, this is their goal," he said.

Asked when Iran would release the sole woman among the 15, sailor Faye Turney, Mottaki said, "We will look into this as soon as possible."

He said earlier reports that he had said she could be freed Wednesday or Thursday were incorrect. "I was probably misquoted," he said.

Earlier in the day, Mottaki told AP on the sidelines of an Arab summit in the Saudi capital, "Today or tomorrow, the lady will be released." The Turkish television station, CNN-Turk, also reported him saying Wednesday she would be freed "today or tomorrow."

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