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A Spotlight On Iran's Relationship With U.S., U.K.


President Trump says he'll work with the U.K. government on the response to Iran's seizure of a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran's Revolutionary Guard said the ship was violating international naval regulations. They also briefly detained another British-operated tanker before releasing it. The incidents are just the latest in a string of confrontations in the Persian Gulf region.

NPR's Jackie Northam has been following the story. Jackie, thanks for being with us.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And what's the latest on the seized oil tanker?

NORTHAM: Well, Iran is still detaining the British ship and its 23 crew members, most of which are Indian, at an Iranian port. The ship's owner gave a good description of what happened yesterday. It said its tanker was in international waters in the Strait of Hormuz heading towards Saudi Arabia when it was approached by several small aircrafts and helicopters, and then it suddenly veered off course and went into Iranian waters.

Now, a spokesman for Iran's Guardian Council says that the seizure of this British ship was a retaliatory move. And if you recall, one of Iran's tankers was detained a few weeks ago by British forces in Gibraltar on suspicion of smuggling oil into Syria. And yesterday, Gibraltar said it was going to extend the detention of that Iranian tanker another month. And, Scott, within hours after that decision, the Revolutionary Guard force seized the British tanker in the Gulf.

SIMON: What's the range of international reaction been?

NORTHAM: Well, with regards to this incident, Britain's foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt warned that there would be serious consequences if the tanker isn't released. But he also indicated the government was trying to diffuse the situation. Let's have a listen to him.


JEREMY HUNT: We're not looking at military options. We are looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation, but we are very clear that it must be resolved.

NORTHAM: The British government has advised U.K. ships to stay out of the Gulf region for an interim period. U.S. Central Command has said it has aircraft patrolling the area to ensure American and other ships have freedom of navigation. And the administration yesterday held a meeting with members of the diplomatic corps about maritime security, providing protection for ships in the Gulf region.

But, you know, Scott, there's been little appetite for this, in part because it's so difficult to do - these are very congested waters - and in part because key allies, such as France and Germany and the U.K., don't like the fact that the U.S. pulled out of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, which many feel is behind this increased turbulence we're seeing now with Iran in the Gulf.

SIMON: Which raises this question. Because the U.K. and other countries in Europe have been trying to find a way to keep that nuclear deal intact, why would Iran seize British tankers?

NORTHAM: It's hard to say what Iran's reasoning is here and why it's taking these provocative actions. You know, the country needs to get out from crippling U.S. sanctions, especially on its oil exports. Iran's economy has been hard-hit not being able to sell crude, and there's an effort, especially amongst the European countries, to try to preserve the deal and help Iran's economy. And it's difficult to gauge whether the recent actions by Iran in the Gulf have soured any of that goodwill. You know, Iran may have some brilliant strategy, but it's really difficult to see it right now.

SIMON: NPR's Jackie Northam, thanks so much for being with us.

NORTHAM: Thanks, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOLIFE'S "AS DAY BREAKS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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