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Iranian Vessels Attempt To Block British Ship In Strait Of Hormuz


The British navy says it's stopped Iranian paramilitary vessels from blocking a British commercial ship in the Strait of Hormuz. So how does this fit into the already tense situation between Iran and other world powers, especially the U.S. and the remaining signatories of the Iran nuclear deal?

For more, we are joined by Washington Post reporter Erin Cunningham, who's on the line from Dubai. Erin, thanks for being here.

ERIN CUNNINGHAM: Thanks so much.

MARTIN: What else do we know about the details of this particular incident involving the British navy?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, we know that it happened yesterday when the British Heritage, the commercial vessel, was traveling from the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz. Now, it appears that it was confronted - the ship was confronted by Iranian paramilitary vessels right at the entrance of the strait, but it was being escorted by the British navy. And they were able to give verbal warning to the Iranian boats. And eventually, they turned away, and it was able to travel through the strait safely.

MARTIN: I mean, we've seen Iran do this before. If they are indeed responsible for this event, what are the motivations? What is Iran's play with these approaches to these commercial ships?

CUNNINGHAM: So I think that Iran is responding from - or responding to pressure from the U.S. and other world powers - the sanctions. And it's - what it's doing is it's escalating on two fronts. So it's responding to sanctions from the United States and pressure to stay in the nuclear deal. And so what's happening is it's coming out, and it's carrying out these attacks, according to U.S. and U.K. officials, because it wants European nations to respond and to give it better terms for the nuclear deal. It wants the economic benefits that it was promised under the agreement.

MARTIN: So I mean, how does that affect Britain's calculus? So the U.S. is out of the deal. Britain is still one of the remaining signatories to the deal. This is clearly Iran trying to pressure Great Britain. Does it change anything for the Brits when it comes to how they think about the nuclear deal and what is clearly a threat from Iran?

CUNNINGHAM: Sure. I think that it could. I think that what we've seen and what we've heard from the British government in recent weeks is that they're committed to staying in the nuclear deal, but that, also, they don't want to see these threats from Iran and that they would be ready to respond or be more forceful in other arenas that would put pressure on Iran and stop it from sort of, you know, carrying out these attacks or these incidents of harassment. So you could see Britain push for sanctions or other harsher measures outside the nuclear agreement that would put pressure on Iran.

MARTIN: Based on previous incidents like this, how's the Trump administration likely to respond in coming days?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I think they'll do what they've done in the past, and that is take the opportunity to emphasize the points they've been making about Iran's malign behavior and the activities of the IRGC. And I think that they'll push for more sanctions, and they'll want European nations to be tougher on Iran, as well.

MARTIN: Washington Post reporter Erin Cunningham speaking to us from Dubai. Thanks for your time.

CUNNINGHAM: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.