Iran Dissidents: British Capture Ordered

An Iranian opposition group claimed Saturday that Iran's capture of 15 British sailors and marines was planned in advance and carried out in retaliation for the U.N. sanctions imposed against the country, as an Iranian diplomat said the case had entered a legal phase.

Gholam-Reza Ansari, the Iranian ambassador to Russia, made his comments to Russian television Vesti-24 on Friday and was quoted by IRNA on its Web site as saying, "the case of the detention of British sailors has taken on a judicial form."

IRNA originally quoted the ambassador Saturday morning as saying the sailors could be "tried if there is enough evidence of guilt." But the agency published a correction later claiming Ansari's comments were incorrectly translated by Russian television. The Russian TV station could not immediately be reached for comment.

Asked about Ansari's remarks earlier Saturday before IRNA reported that he was misquoted, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett urged Iran to resolve the crisis peacefully.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran the political wing of the Iranian MEK opposition group which is listed as a terrorist group by Britain, the U.S. and the European Union said the British crew's capture was planned in advance, but offered no evidence to support the claims.

Hossein Abedini, a member of the opposition group's foreign affairs committee, claimed the group had obtained information from sources within Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard and had passed details to the British government. He did not provide any evidence or give further details.

Britain's Foreign Office said it could not comment on Abedini's allegation, or say if it had evidence the operation was pre-planned. A spokeswoman said the MEK was a banned organization under British anti-terrorism laws meaning the government had no dealings with the group.

Abedini told a London press conference that an Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval garrison had been on alert from the night before the kidnapping, to prepare for the operation.

Mohammad Mohaddessin, who handles foreign affairs for the council, said in a statement that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had ordered the detention of the Britons in the hope of pressuring the British government over a threat to toughen U.N. sanctions.

"You can see that the clerical regime had in a premeditated act arrested British sailors in order to win concessions from the international community and divert attention from its nuclear project," Abedini said. "Claims that the sailors were arrested in Iranian territorial waters are baseless."

Former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami told reporters on Saturday that he hopes the current standoff will be resolved peacefully "instead of facing a new disaster not only for Iranian-British relations, but for Iran internationally."

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