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European leaders tackle fallout from US strike on Iranian general

European capitals are grappling with the fallout from the US assassination of a top Iranian military commander that hugely escalated tensions in the Middle East and left the nuclear agreement struck with Tehran hanging by a thread.

Brussels, 6 January 2020 (dpa/MIA) – European capitals are grappling with the fallout from the US assassination of a top Iranian military commander that hugely escalated tensions in the Middle East and left the nuclear agreement struck with Tehran hanging by a thread.

NATO state ambassadors are to meet on Monday afternoon for an urgent session in Brussels after a United States’ airstrike in Baghdad killed Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

The operation greatly angered Iran and Iraq and has been met with the promise of retaliatory attacks from Iran, prompting fears over the outbreak of war.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for restraint in the Gulf, in a statement released late Sunday.

The three leaders spoke of “an urgent need for de-escalation… The current cycle of violence in Iraq must be stopped.”

NATO training operations in Iraq have been suspended in the wake of the strike, which also took out Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, the deputy head of Iraq’s Shiite militia Hashd al-Shaabi, along with several other Iran-allied militiamen.

The transatlantic military alliance’s current mission in Iraq began in 2018 with the aim of training Iraqi armed forces to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State terrorist group.

Fighting against Islamic State “remains a high priority,” the European leaders statement added, and urged Iraqi authorities to continue providing support to the US-led alliance fighting the militant group.

Iraq’s parliament passed a resolution calling for an end to the presence of foreign troops linked to the alliance on Sunday.

The US strike also ushered in the apparent demise of the 2015 nuclear accord aiming to curb Iran’s ability to build nuclear weapons, a development European leaders had been been striving to avoid.

Tehran said on Sunday it no longer sees itself as bound by the deal, though observers believe it has left a back door open to return to compliance with the agreement, under which Iran allowed inspection of its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear accord with Iran in 2018 and reapplied sanctions.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell invited Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Brussels during a phone call over the weekend though a response has not yet been made, according to Borell’s spokesman on Monday.

The EU is now awaiting the assessment of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors the situation on the ground in Iran, before deciding its next move, spokesman Peter Stano added.

France, Germany and Britain also called on Iran in their statement to refrain from further violence or nuclear activities, and to reverse all measures taken that do not comply.

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