Britain’s foreign secretary has said the UK is trying to de-escalate tensions in Iran to avoid a war after a US airstrike killed its top general.
Dominic Raab said the UK understands the “position” the US were in as he described Major General Qassem Soleimani, who died in the strike on his motorcade on Friday in Iraq, as “a regional menace”.
Mr Raab told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “The US has a right to exercise self-defence and we’re sympathetic to the situation they found themselves in but we want de-escalation now.
“We need to avoid a war and de-escalate and stabilise the situation.
“My first concern is to protect British citizens, forces, our diplomatic missions, all of that planning and preparation is in place – we’re working with our partners on that.”
He said he spoke to the Iraqi prime minister on Sunday morning, has been speaking to other leaders since Friday and will speak to more today “to make sure we’re all clear that de-escalation is absolutely necessary”.
Mr Raab added: “Nobody would benefit from a war in the Middle East. The only people that would benefit would be the terrorists, and Daesh in particular.
“So we will be working with our partners, the US in particular, European partners, our partners in the region, to get our message across and manage these things down and de-escalate those tensions.”
Trying to strike a balance between supporting the US and not aggravating Iran, the foreign secretary said the US is sending a message to Iran that “they cannot continue with their aggressive behaviour”.
However, he said the world needs to make sure Iran knows “they can come in from the international cold, adding: “If they want to engage in proper diplomacy, that route is also available.”
The foreign secretary defended Boris Johnson‘s decision to stay on his Christmas holiday in the Caribbean as global tensions escalated following the death of Maj Gen Soleimani.
He said the prime minister has remained in control from his break on the private island of Mustique and will be at meetings on Monday, but could not answer why Mr Johnson had not returned to the UK early.
Shadow foreign secretary, and Labour leadership candidate, Emily Thornberry criticized the prime minister for not returning home as she called Mr Trump “reckless” and said the UK needs to call an emergency UN security council meeting.
“We are taking a major lurch towards war,” she told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
Ms Thornberry revealed when Mr Johnson was foreign secretary she warned him Mr Trump was going to rip up the Iran nuclear treaty – which he did in 2018.
She said: “He told me ‘you should spend a bit less time reading the newspapers’. It’s ridiculous, we have been complacent.”
As the two opposition politicians spoke about preventing a war, Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif tweeted Mr Trump had breached international law in Friday’s “cowardly assassinations” and will commit war crimes by “targeting cultural sites”.
The foreign minister was reacting to Mr Trump saying if Iran retaliates by killing Americans, the US will target 52 Iranian sites, “some at a very high level and important to Iran and the Iranian culture”.
Mr Javid warned: “Those masquerading as diplomats and those who shamelessly sat to identify Iranian cultural & civilian targets should not even bother to open a law dictionary.”