DUBAI: US President Donald Trump on Sunday vowed “major retaliation” if Tehran launches attacks to avenge the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani
The president also told reporters traveling with him from Florida that he was willing to go after Iranian cultural sites because Iran had killed Americans, and he said the administration “may discuss” releasing intelligence related to the killing of Qassem Soleimani.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Sunday that Tehran would announce its fifth step back from the nuclear deal in retaliation for Qassem Soleimani’s killing.
“Regarding the fifth step, decisions had already been made ... but considering the current situation, some changes will be made in an important meeting tonight,” Mousavi said in televised remarks.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson specifically urged Iran to “withdraw all measures” not in line with the 2015 agreement that was intended to stop Tehran from pursuing its atomic weapons program.
The European Union said Sunday it had Iran’s foreign minister has been invited to Brussels, urging a “de-escalation of tensions” in the Gulf after US drone strikes that killed the top Iranian general.
The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell made the offer to Mohammad Javad Zarif during a telephone call this weekend, a press release said.
“Borrell invited the Iranian Foreign Minister to Brussels to continue their engagement on these matters,” it said.
A regional political solution was the “only way forward,” Borrell said, underlining “the importance of preserving” the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
He confirmed “his resolve to continue to fully play his role as coordinator and keep the unity of the remaining participants in support of the agreement and its full implementation by all parties.”
The invite followed comments from the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in which he called for a de-escalation in hostilities and said the US had a right to self-defense in killing Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.
Asked during an interview with the BBC if the killing was legal, Raab said: “There is a right of self-defense.”
“It was General Soleimani’s job description to engage proxies and militias ... to attack Western countries that were legitimately there and in those circumstances the right of self-defense clearly applies,” he said, adding that he did not agree that the killing was an act of war.
“We are going to take every essential measure to reduce the risk to the UK and our military personnel,” he added.
He said the route was open to Iran to engage in meaningful diplomacy, adding it was clear ‘Tehran cannot continue its nefarious activities.’
Raab, who described Soleimani as a ‘regional menace’, said he had spoken to Iraq’s prime minister and president to urge a de-escalation of tensions in the region.
The body of Soleimani arrived Sunday in Iran to throngs of mourners after the US drone strike in Iraq which killed the commander.
Friday’s death of Soleimani, who remains accused of Tehran’s overseas clandestine and military operations as head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, further heightens tensions between Tehran and Washington after months trading attacks and threats that put the wider Middle East on edge.
Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s regional policy of mobilizing militias across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, including in the war against Daesh. He was also blamed for attacks on US troops and American allies going back decades.
Iran has promised “harsh revenge.” Already, a series of rockets launched in Baghdad late Saturday fell inside or near the Green Zone, which houses government offices and foreign embassies, including the US Embassy.
President Donald Trump threatened on Sunday to bomb 52 sites in the Islamic Republic if Tehran attacked Americans.
....targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
He also later boasted on his Twitter account that the ‘US just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment’ and that ‘we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way...and without hesitation!’
The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way...and without hesitation!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2020
Meanwhile Iran’s foreign ministry said the US message delivered by the Swiss ambassador on Friday was unacceptable, but maintained they did not want war.
Switzerland represents US interests in Iran, allowing the two countries to maintain a diplomatic channel of communication.
Sultan Qaboos, the ruler of Oman, a country that maintains a neutral stance between the two nations, has called on both to resolve their issues diplomatically and asked the international community to intensify efforts for peace in the region.
السلطنة تتابع باهتمام بالغ التطورات الأخيرة المؤسفة لحالة التوتر والتصعيد بين #الولايات_المتحدة والجمهورية الإسلامية #الإيرانية وتدعو الطرفين إلى تغليب لغة الحوار والبحث عن الوسائل الدبلوماسية لحل القضايا الخلافية بشكل ينهي الصراع في المنطقة. pic.twitter.com/5C4JNYuEX1
— وكالة الأنباء العمانية (@OmanNewsAgency) January 5, 2020
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said President Donald Trump was “worthy of all appreciation” for ordering the killing of Soleimani.
Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday Soleimani “initiated, planned and carried out many terror attacks” in the Middle East and beyond.
After the airstrike early Friday, the US-led coalition has scaled back operations and boosted “security and defensive measures” at bases hosting coalition forces in Iraq, a coalition official said on condition of anonymity according to regulations.
Meanwhile, the US has dispatched another 3,000 troops to neighboring Kuwait, the latest in a series of deployments in recent months as the standoff with Iran has worsened.
In a thinly veiled threat, one of the Iran-backed militia, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, called on Iraqi security forces to stay at least a kilometer away from US bases starting Sunday night.
However, US troops are invariably based in Iraqi military posts alongside local forces.
Iraq’s government, which is closely allied with Iran, condemned the airstrike that killed Soleimani, calling it an attack on its national sovereignty.
Also Saturday, NATO temporarily suspended all training activities in Iraq due to safety concerns, Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said.
The US has ordered all citizens to leave Iraq and temporarily closed its embassy in Baghdad, where Iran-backed militiamen and their supporters staged two days of violent protests in which they breached the compound.
Britain and France have warned their citizens to avoid or strictly limit travel in Iraq.