Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has called for a calming of tensions from all aggressors after the US killed Iran’s top general in an air strike.
General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Tehran’s elite Quds Force who spearheaded military operations in the Middle East, was targeted in a drone strike at Baghdad’s international airport on Friday.
Mr Raab discussed the dramatic ratcheting of tensions with Donald Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later in the day.
Outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described the “serious and dangerous escalation” as an “assassination” and called for the UK to stand up to the “belligerent actions” from the US.
The US Defence Department said Gen Soleimani was targeted because he was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members” in the region.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that “severe revenge awaits the criminals” behind the strike and announced three days of national mourning.
Mr Raab issued a statement saying the Government had “always recognised the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force” led by the general.
“Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests,” Mr Raab added.
Discussed with @DominicRaab the recent decision to take defensive action to eliminate Qassem Soleimani. Thankful that our allies recognize the continuing aggressive threats posed by the Iranian Quds Force. The U.S. remains committed to de-escalation.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 3, 2020
The Secretary of State thanked Mr Raab in a phone call for recognising the “aggressive threats posed” by the Quds Force in his statement, according to US spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.
Mr Pompeo was also said to have stressed that the White House “remains committed to de-escalation”.
The president did not tone down his rhetoric, however, and later tweeted: “Iran never won a war, but never lost a negotiation!”
Mr Corbyn said “the US assassination” of the general “is an extremely serious and dangerous escalation of conflict in the Middle East with global significance”.
“The UK Government should urge restraint on the part of both Iran and the US, and stand up to the belligerent actions and rhetoric coming from the United States,” the MP added.
“All countries in the region and beyond should seek to ratchet down the tensions to avoid deepening conflict, which can only bring further misery to the region, 17 years on from the disastrous invasion of Iraq.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been celebrating New Year on the private Caribbean island of Mustique, is yet to comment.
Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary vying to succeed Mr Corbyn, said Mr Raab’s statement was insufficient and criticised the PM for having “pathetically unopposed” Mr Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.
“The Foreign Office’s call for restraint today is too little and far too late, in the wake of such a brazen, unlawful and provocative attack,” she said.
“As the drumbeat for war with Iran grows ever louder, and the first shots are being fired, we must fight through the UN to stop this conflict, and fight in our Parliament to stop British forces being put in harm’s way in the service of Donald Trump.”
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, who is the current Labour leadership’s favourite successor, echoed Mr Corbyn’s “assassination” comment and warned that the president is “pushing us closer to the brink of another disastrous war”.
“Our government should help de-escalate tensions, and we must resist any rush to war,” she added.
Clive Lewis, another Labour leadership hopeful who served as a Territorial Army officer and completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan, called on the PM to condemn this “cowboy action”.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, who is considering a run to replace Mr Corbyn, said it was an “extremely serious situation” and urged the UK to “engage, not isolate Iran”.
Sir Keir’s potential rival, Labour MP Lisa Nandy, said it is “a very dangerous moment”, adding: “World leaders must stand up to (US president Donald) Trump. The last thing we need is another all out war.”
Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, a former defence minister who served as a captain in the Army, tweeted “this is big”, adding: “Expect repercussions.”
The Foreign Office advises British-Iranian dual nationals against all travel to Iran and for other British nationals to seek the department’s advice before travelling to the nation.
British nationals risk being arbitrarily detained or arrested by Tehran, the department warns.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been among the dual nationals being held in Iran since she was arrested in 2016 and accused of spying while visiting family.
Her husband Richard Ratcliffe told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I sit here partly worried for what that means for Nazanin, partly worried what that means for my in-laws, sat in their ordinary living room in Tehran where they’re all really worried.”