Britain said it had contacts on Tuesday with Iran, including Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

 

"On the basis of these, the prime minister believes that both sides share a desire for an early resolution of this issue through direct talks," the statement issued by Blair's office said.

 

Diplomatic channel

 

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Earlier, Margaret Beckett, the British foreign secretary, told reporters: "We are not seeking confrontation. We are seeking to pursue this through diplomatic channels."

   

Iran said on Tuesday that the dispute could be resolved soon if Britain continued its "changed behaviour" and accepted that its sailors and marines had entered Iranian waters illegally.

   

The standoff began when Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized the sailors and marines on March 23 in the northern Gulf, where the British navy has been searching shipping in an effort to prevent smuggling into Iraq.

 

British efforts to get the international community to condemn Iran has angered Tehran. Britain has also criticised the parading of its military personnel on Iranian television, saying broadcasts showing them admitting guilt had been forced on them.

   

Larijani left the door open for discussion about whether the personnel had strayed into Iranian waters by saying a "delegation" should be sent to clarify the issue.

   

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's anti-Western president who beat Larijani in the 2005 presidential race, will talk about the captive personnel on Wednesday, according to Iranian television.