British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Sunday that the 15 British sailors and marines captured by Iran as they searched for smugglers off the Iraqi coast were not in Iranian waters and warned that London viewed their fate as a "fundamental" issue.
The group was seized at gunpoint on Friday, and the Foreign Office in London said British officials do not know where Iran is holding them. "It is simply not true that they went into Iranian territorial waters," Blair said at a news conference in Berlin, calling the situation "very serious."
"I want to get it resolved in as easy and diplomatic a way as possible," he said, but added he hoped the Iranians "understood how fundamental an issue this is for the British government."
Blair's words followed British and European Union demands for Iran to free the 15. Britain and the United States have claimed the sailors and marines had just completed a search of a civilian vessel in the Iraqi part of the Shatt al-Arab waterway when they were intercepted by the Iranian navy.