Tensions rise as US hits Iran with more sanctions following Tehran’s retaliatory attack in Iraq after Soleimani killing.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani posed a grave risk to US troops in the region and had to be dealt with. Soleimani was assassinated in a US drone attack near Baghdad on January 3, prompting Iran to retaliate with a series of missile attacks on US facilities in Iraq several days later. Fears of imminent war between Iran and the United States have since subsided somewhat after US President Donald Trump appeared to shy away from a direct military response to the Iranian missile attack.
Trump believes Iran was targeting four US embassies
President Donald Trump said Iran probably had targeted the US embassy in Baghdad and was aiming to attack four US embassies when its top general, Qassem Soleimani, was killed in a US drone strike. “We will tell you probably it was going to be the embassy in Baghdad,” Trump said in a clip of an interview on Fox News. “I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies.”
US imposes new sanctions on Iran following missile strikes
The US is imposing additional sanctions on Iran as a result of its attack on US troops in Iraq this week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday. “We are announcing additional sanctions against the Iranian regime,” Mnuchin said at a White House news conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The sanctions will target Iranian industries, including steel and iron manufacturers, as well as at least eight senior Iranian officials, Mnuchin added.
US says any delegation to Iraq won’t discuss troop withdrawal
Any delegation the US would send to Iraq would not discuss the withdrawal of US troops from the country, the US State Department said, saying the force presence there was “appropriate”.”There does, however, need to be a conversation between the US and Iraqi governments not just regarding security, but about our financial, economic, and diplomatic partnership,” department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. Germany’s foreign minister said he believed the Iran nuclear deal was still relevant and European ministers would reaffirm their commitment to the accord despite Tehran vowing to scrap uranium enrichment limits enshrined in the pact.
“We believe that this [nuclear] deal makes sense because it binds Iran into not developing any nuclear weapons. So we want this agreement to have a future, but it only has a future if it is adhered to and we expect this from Iran,” Heiko Maas told reporters on arrival in Brussels for a European Union foreign ministers meeting. He added that a full investigation was needed into the causes of a Ukrainian airliner crash near Tehran, adding that the reasons for its plight could not be “hidden under the table.”
Pompeo: US didn’t know when, where Soleimani attacks would take place
Pompeo has acknowledged that the US did not know “precisely” when or where attacks allegedly being planned by Soleimani would take place. “There is no doubt that there were a series of imminent attacks that were being plotted by Qassem Soleimani,” Pompeo said in a Fox News interview that aired on Thursday. “We don’t know precisely when, and we don’t know precisely where, but it was real,” he added. The Trump administration has come under fire for its decision to assassinate Soleimani without consulting Congress. The administration maintains it did not need to consult Congress before the strike because of the “imminent threat” US forces faced.
Iran could have a nuclear weapon within 1-2 years: French minister
Iran could have nuclear weapons in one to two years if the country carries on violating the 2015 nuclear accord, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. “If they continue with unravelling the Vienna agreement, then yes, within a fairly short period of time, between one and two years, they could have access to a nuclear weapon, which is not an option,” Le Drian said on RTL radio.
Saudi defends US attack, condemns Iran
Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir condemned Wednesday’s missile attacks by Iran. “We take issue with the violation of Iraq’s sovereignty by Iran,” al-Jubeir said on Friday during a news conference in Prague where he was on a routine diplomatic visit. Al-Jubeir reiterated the Saudi position, supporting the US’s right to defend itself but called for calm in the region. “We believe that there should be a way to avoid escalation because we believe escalation would be damaging to all parties and not just one or the other,” he added. Al-Jubeir also made reference to the Iranian nuclear deal, saying it is flawed in its current form and that it should be amended.
Iraqi PM tells US to decide mechanism for troop withdrawal
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi told the US secretary of state to send a delegation to Iraq tasked with formulating the mechanism for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, according to a statement. In a phone call on Thursday night the Iraqi leader requested US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “send delegates to Iraq to prepare a mechanism to carry out the parliament’s resolution regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq,” the statement said. “The prime minister said American forces had entered Iraq and drones are flying in its airspace without permission from Iraqi authorities and this was a violation of the bilateral agreements,” the statement added. Iraqi legislators passed a non-binding resolution to remove US troops following the US strike last Friday.
European leaders to hold summit to save Iran deal
European Union foreign ministers are set for a rare emergency meeting on Friday afternoon, hoping to guide the US and Iran away from confrontation. However, if it is proven that a Ukrainian airliner was this week downed by an Iranian missile, that will likely complicate matters again for the diplomats. On Monday, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell tweeted his regret at Iran’s recent decision to step away from more aspects of the nuclear deal, which, he said, was “now more important than ever”. (_)