Johnson to assemble key ministers to discuss spiralling Middle East crisis

Boris Johnson is to assemble key ministers to discuss the spiralling crisis in the Middle East after the US’s assassination of Iran’s top military leader.

The Prime Minister is also likely to continue high-stakes diplomatic discussions with world leaders on Monday over the Donald Trump-ordered drone strike on General Qassem Soleimani.

After speaking to the US President on Sunday, Mr Johnson broke his silence to say the UK “will not lament” the death of the leader who he said was “a threat to all our interests”.

The PM urged de-escalation from all sides, saying that calls for reprisals “will simply lead to more violence in the region and they are in no one’s interest” in the wake of the killing in Baghdad on Friday.

But a short while later, Mr Trump threatened to retaliate “perhaps in a disproportionate manner” if Iran strikes a US citizen or target.

Meanwhile, Iran announced it will abandon the limits in the unravelling nuclear deal on fuel enrichment, its uranium stockpile and research activities in a move that could bring it closer to assembling an atomic bomb.

And The Times quoted an unnamed senior commander in the elite Quds Force, which Gen Soleimani commanded, as warning British soldiers could be fatally attacked as collateral.

“Our forces will retaliate and target US troops in (the) Middle East without any concern about killing its allies, including UK troops, as this has turned in to a fully-fledged war with much collateral damage expected,” the commander said.

The PM said he will be speaking to Iraq “to support peace and stability” after its parliament called for the expulsion of foreign troops, including British soldiers working against so-called Islamic State.

Mr Johnson spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel after arriving back in the UK on Sunday morning from his Caribbean holiday amid mounting criticism.

Soleimani
Gen Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

Amid fears of an all-out war, Iraq’s parliament passed a non-legally binding bill calling for the expulsion of all foreign forces.

Some 400 UK troops are stationed in Iraq in the fight against IS, while the US has 5,200, prompting fears of a withdrawal that could cripple the battle against the terror group.

The Ministry of Defence was understood to be awaiting the decision of the Iraqi government before acting over the soldiers based there as part of the US-led coalition.

A UK Government spokesman said: “We urge the Iraqi government to ensure the coalition is able to continue our vital work countering this shared threat.”

Foreign Secretary @DominicRaab has issued a statement about updates to travel advice for Iraq and Iran

— Foreign Office 🇬🇧 (@foreignoffice) January 4, 2020

In response to the killing of Gen Soleimani on Friday, Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said the parliament could end the presence of foreign troops or restrict their mission training local forces. He backed the first option.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had spoken to him on Sunday morning in the wake of the killing of the head of the elite Quds Force, who masterminded Tehran’s security strategy in the region.

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