LONDON – Britain examined options Sunday for new dialogue with Tehran over the seized crew of 15 sailors and marines, as a poll suggested most Britons back the government's goal of resolving the standoff through diplomacy.
Government and defense officials refused to discuss a report that claimed a Royal Navy captain or commodore would be sent to Tehran as a special envoy to negotiate the return of the personnel.
The official would deliver an assurance that British naval crews would never deliberately enter Iranian waters without permission, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported.
Britain's Foreign Office and Ministry of Defense said they would not comment on negotiations or on options being considered. "We will continue to conduct our diplomatic discussions in private," a Foreign Office spokesman said on the government's customary condition of anonymity.
But Transport Minister Douglas Alexander said Britain was engaged in "exploring the potential for dialogue with the Iranians."
"The responsible way forward is to continue the often unglamorous, but important and quiet diplomatic work to get our personnel home," Alexander told the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Sunday AM program.
A Defense Ministry spokeswoman declined to comment on claims officials had lost optimism of a quick end to the standoff, saying speculation about diplomatic efforts threatened to hinder progress.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett appeared to soften rhetoric against Iran Saturday — though she stopped far short of the apology sought by many in Iran.
"I think everyone regrets that this position has arisen," Beckett said in Bremen, Germany, before returning to England. "What we want is a way out of it."
The Foreign Office and Blair's Downing Street office said it welcomed U.S. President Bush's intervention — calling Saturday for the release of the sailors and marines and labeling their capture by Tehran "inexcusable behavior."
"Iran must give back the hostages," Bush said. "They're innocent, they did nothing wrong, and they were summarily plucked out of waters."
Eight British sailors and seven marines were detained by Iranian naval units March 23 while patrolling for smugglers near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab, a waterway that has long been a disputed dividing line between Iraq and Iran.
Tehran says the crew was in Iranian waters, but Britain insists its troops were on the Iraqi side of the maritime border.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called world powers "arrogant" for failing to apologize.
"Instead of apologizing over trespassing by British forces, the world arrogant powers issue statements and deliver speeches," Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying during a speech in the southeastern city of Andinmeshk.
A poll published in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper found that 66 percent of respondents trusted Blair and Beckett to resolve the crisis, while 28 percent did not. Only 7 percent thought the government should be preparing to use military force.
Pollster ICM interviewed 762 adults by telephone March 30 and 31. The margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points.