PARIS — European leaders have called for a deescalation of tensions between the United States and Iran after a U.S. strike in Iraq killed Qassem Soleimani, the most important Iranian military commander.
French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the situation with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the phone Friday morning, according to his office.
France, which has been trying to broker an easing of tensions between the U.S. and Iran since June, called for cool heads.
“We see that escalation is in place while we would like first of all stability and deescalation,” Amélie de Montchalin, France’s European affairs minister, said on morning radio. “Our priority this morning is the stability of the region.”
She said Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian would, over the coming hours, “have contacts with all the partners and actors in the region because there are a lot of consequences, consequences on peace in the region.”
The latest tensions started when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran.
“The cycle of violence, provocations and retaliations which we have witnessed in Iraq over the past few weeks has to stop. Further escalation must be avoided at all cost,” said European Council President Charles Michel in a statement. “The risk is a generalised flare up of violence in the whole region and the rise of obscure forces of terrorism that thrive at times of religious and nationalist tensions.”
Soleimani led the elite Quds Force, a U.S.-designated terror organization within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. He was a kind of regional viceroy for Iran, masterminding and overseeing its vast network of influence and proxy forces across the Levant. Over two decades he oversaw the creation and growth of various militia forces in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria — which were accused of war crimes — that Iran has used to project its power and engage in proxy wars with the U.S. and Israel.
“The American action was a reaction to a series of military provocations for which Iran carries responsibility,” said German government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer. “We also see with great concern Iran’s activities in the region. We are facing a dangerous escalation … It is precisely at this point that we need to deescalate.”
#Irak: De onrust en gewelddadigheden zijn verder toegenomen in Bagdad en rond het vliegveld. De situatie is onvoorspelbaar. Blijf alert en volg het nieuws. Volg de instructies van de lokale autoriteiten op. Bent u in Bagdad? Verlaat Bagdad als dit op een veilige manier kan.
— 24/7 BZ (@247BZ) January 3, 2020
The Dutch foreign ministry advised its citizens to “leave Baghdad if this is possible in a safe way,” saying “the situation is unpredictable” in a tweet Friday morning.
The U.K. also called for deescalation, while underlining the threat the Iranian general posed.
“We have always recognised the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qasem Soleimani. Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominc Raab said in a statement.
The latest tensions started when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran. In 2019, Iran started gradually violating the agreement’s limits on its nuclear activities and carrying out military action in the Gulf, including shooting down a U.S. drone in June.
On December 27, an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia launched rockets against a military base in Iraq where U.S. troops were stationed as part of the anti-ISIS coalition, killing one U.S. contractor and wounding four American soldiers. The U.S. retaliated by bombing one of the militia’s outposts on December 29, killing two dozen of its members. The following day, hordes of militiamen from various Iran-backed groups attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and wrote “Soleimani is my leader” on the wall of the building.
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