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US moves to brief world leaders cautious after Baghdad strike

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo holds a press conference, in Brussels, Belgium on November 20, 2019. (Ron Przysucha/U.S. State Department)
January 05, 2020

The U.S. moved quickly to brief governments abroad and seek support for its decision to kill the Iranian commander in charge of its elite Quds force, with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo calling counterparts in France, the U.K., Russia and other major powers on Friday.

Foreign leaders largely reacted with caution to President Donald Trump’s decision to launch a strike late Thursday that killed Qassem Soleimani, a key architect of Iran’s foreign and military policy in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Western officials expressed concern about an escalation in violence between the U.S. and Iran, as they assessed the fallout from the killing of Soleimani and called for restraint.

“The American action was a reaction to a whole series of military provocations which Iran is responsible for,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said at a news conference in Berlin. “We are at a dangerous point of escalation. It’s now about contributing to a de-escalation with calm and restraint.”

That sentiment was echoed by British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, even as the U.S. was sending more forces to the region to bolster defenses.

“We have always recognized the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qassem Soleimani,” Raab said. “Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests.”

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Soleimani, who led proxy militias that extended Iran’s power across the Middle East, was killed in a strike in Baghdad authorized by Trump, the Defense Department said in a statement late Thursday. Trump, who is staying at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, said on Twitter Friday that “Iran never won a war, but never lost a negotiation!” and the U.S. embassy in Baghdad urged its citizens to leave the country.

Iran’s Supreme Leader quickly threatened “severe retaliation” in response. The U.S. State Department issued a directive urging American citizens to leave Iraq immediately due to the tensions.

Pompeo worked the phones as he tried to ease concerns about the fallout from the killing. In his calls with officials from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan he reiterated the U.S. message that the Iranian regime was destabilizing the Middle East and that the Trump administration would protect American interests, personnel, facilities and partner.

The top U.S. diplomat thanked Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his country’s “steadfast support” and for “recognizing the continuing aggressive threats posed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force.” He also told the crown prince that the U.S. remains committed to de-escalation, a message that he also conveyed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The U.S. messaging didn’t ease concerns in some European capitals, where officials warned that the killing of Soleimani would escalate tension in a region already beleaguered by instability in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and violent militant insurgents. Iran has long competed with the U.S. for influence in Iraq.

“It’s what we feared,” France’s European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin said, adding that it will have implications for peace in the region, the fight against ISIS and terrorism and nuclear proliferation. “We’ve woken up in a world that’s more dangerous because any military escalation is always dangerous.”

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© 2020 Bloomberg News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.