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U.K. Says It Won't Join The U.S. In Maximum Pressure Campaign Against Iran


Great Britain's outgoing prime minister, Theresa May, met with her top security advisers today to work out a response to Iran's seizure of a British-flagged ship in the Strait of Hormuz last week. The decision - a strong condemnation of Iran for, quote, "an act of state piracy." The British government pointedly decided not to join a U.S. military effort to protect commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf.

And we're joined now by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre here in the studio to tell us more.

Hey, Greg.


SHAPIRO: So first, what do today's developments mean?

MYRE: Well, Britain's sending two very clear messages. First, it says it's very angry with Iran for the seizure of this ship. And second, it's still not willing to go along with the U.S. in this maximum pressure campaign against Iran. After this government security meeting, Britain's foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, spoke to Parliament. And let's have a listen.


JEREMY HUNT: Iran had no right to obstruct the ship's passage, let alone board her. It...


HUNT: It was, therefore, an act of state piracy.

MYRE: So Iran seized this ship, the Stena Impero, last Friday, and it's now in an Iranian port. Iran also released a video of the crew members. It shows a bunch of guys in red jumpsuits, most of them Indian citizens, sitting around a kitchen table.

SHAPIRO: So if the U.K. is not going to join this U.S.-led effort, how does Britain plan to protect its ships in the Persian Gulf?

MYRE: Well, Hunt said that Britain is going to try to put together a European-led mission to protect commercial shipping in the Gulf. We have no details on what countries might be willing to sign up on this - for this. The British government was under criticism for not protecting its ship in the Gulf. And one option would be to join this U.S. coalition that the Americans are trying to put together to protect all the oil tankers going in and out of the Gulf, but Hunt made it very clear that's not what Britain wants. Here he is again talking about this potential European naval group.


HUNT: It will not be part of the U.S. maximum pressure policy on Iran because we remain committed to preserving the Iran nuclear agreement.

SHAPIRO: Greg, this seems like a pretty dramatic split between allies, especially coming after President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear agreement and Britain, France and Germany, along with other countries try to stay in it.

MYRE: Yeah. Initially, it seemed that this Iranian action might have the effect, perhaps unintended from Iran's point of view, of bringing the U.S. and Europe together, at least when it comes to protecting the Persian Gulf. The U.S. has been trying for weeks to put together this coalition. It even has a name for it - Operation Sentinel. But what it doesn't have is actual partners. And the U.S. military says it's still working on it.

SHAPIRO: And this Iranian seizure of the British-flagged ship does not come in a vacuum. There's been so much else going on in the waters off Iran. Remind us of the context for this.

MYRE: Well, Iran says that it did this for a very specific reason - that one of its oil tankers was seized near Gibraltar on July 4. Britain said this was violating EU sanctions. And Iran says, well, we're not part of the EU. That's none of our business. Our ship never should have been seized, and this is why we're acting now.

And Iran had another note today. It said it had arrested 17 people, apparently all Iranians, claiming they were working for the CIA and that some of them will be executed.

SHAPIRO: How does the U.S. respond to that?

MYRE: President Trump said totally false story.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Greg Myre, thank you.

MYRE: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.