TEHRAN, Iran – Iran and Britain signaled possible ways out of the standoff over 15 detained British soldiers Monday, with Tehran saying there was no need to put the crew on trial and Britain saying it was willing to discuss ways to avoid future boundary confusion in the Persian Gulf.
Iran's top international negotiator Ali Larijani said Iran's priority "is to solve the problem through proper diplomatic channels."
"There is no need for any trial," he told Britain's Channel 4 television news.
In response to Larijani's comments, the British government said that it and Iran shared the goal of "early bilateral discussions" to end the crisis over a captured British naval crew.
"There remain some differences between us, but we can confirm we share his preference for early bilateral discussions to find a diplomatic solution to this problem," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said on the government's customary condition of anonymity.
Another British official said that the two countries had agreed to discuss how to avoid future disputes over contested waters in the Persian Gulf.
Earlier Monday, Iran's state-run media said all 15 British sailors and marines had confessed to illegally entering Iranian waters, but the confessions would not be broadcast because of what it called "positive changes" in Britain's negotiating stance.
The Britons were detained March 23 by naval units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards 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. Britain insists its troops were in Iraqi waters working under a U.N. mandate.
In Tehran, the head of the Iranian parliamentary committee on foreign policy and national security, Allaeddin Broujerdi, said Britain should send a representative to Tehran to discuss the alleged incursion.
"The only solution is for them to send an official to find out the reason for the invasion," Broujerdi told state radio. "There is a need for a bilateral agreement to prevent such an event in the future."
It was not immediately clear whether Broujerdi had government backing for his proposal.
The renewed diplomatic efforts followed tough rhetoric last week from both sides, which prompted each government to dig in its heels.
Britain suspended all other diplomatic contacts with Iran, froze work to support trade missions and stopped issuing of visas to Iranian diplomats.
The British also sought help from other countries, including Muslim Turkey, to press Iran to free the captives.
Those moves prompted Iran to suspend plans to free the only woman captive, Seaman Faye Turney, and to suggest that the Britons might face trial.
To reinforce their claims, the Iranians also broadcast video footage that showed four of the crew saying they were captured in Iranian waters. In footage Sunday, two of the sailors used maps to show the alleged location where they were seized.
That enraged the British, who said the confessions were clearly made under duress.
"The Iranians know our position, they know that stage-managed TV appearances are not going to affect our position," Blair's official spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. "They know we have strong international support."