European and Gulf governments condemn Iranian missile strikes
Governments in Europe and the Gulf have condemned the Iranian missile strikes against US forces in Iraq, launched in retaliation for the killing of military commander Qassem Soleimani last week, and urged the Iranian government to avoid escalating the conflict.
Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at the al-Assad base in Iraq’s Anbar province and a facility in Erbil, in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, in a move that raised the spectre of a broader conflict in the Middle East.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas condemned the attacks and called on Iran “to refrain from all steps that could lead to a further escalation”.
He said Germany was in contact with all parties “to calm things down”. “We all have to show restraint and prudence in this situation,” he said.
Mr Maas’s comments were echoed by his UK counterpart Dominic Raab, who condemned the missile strikes and said he was “concerned by reports of casualties”.
“We urge Iran not to repeat these reckless and dangerous attacks, and instead to pursue urgent de-escalation,” he said.
The UK, which has about 400 service personnel in bases around Iraq, confirmed that none of its troops had been harmed in the Iranian strikes. Just hours before the missiles were fired by Tehran, the British defence secretary said he had put helicopters and warships in the region on standby for rapid deployment in Iraqi if the military situation deteriorated.
Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, said the EU would do “everything possible to rekindle talks” to calm the situation in the Middle East.
“The current crisis deeply affects not only the region but all of us,” she told reporters. “The use of weapons must stop now, to give space for dialogue.”
The latest violence comes as the EU struggles to use its limited leverage to save the landmark nuclear deal with Iran and avoid a conflagration in a region it sees as part of its neighbourhood. The EU has called an emergency meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels on Friday.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said it was in “no one’s interests” to increase “the spiral of violence even further”. He said the latest developments in “Iran and Iraq and the whole region” were “extremely worrying” and could threaten the international fight against the IS terrorist group, also known as Daesh.
“One thing is clear: the current situation puts at risk the efforts of the past years and also has important implications for the work of the anti-Daesh coalition,” he said.
Gulf states also stepped up their calls for restraint. “De-escalation is both wise and necessary,” said Anwar Gargash, foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates. “A political path towards stability must follow”. The UAE — a potential target for any Iranian retaliation — has been calling for de-escalation since attacks on oil tankers off its coast last year were blamed on Iran by Washington.
Analysts said the Iranian attack appeared calibrated to allow room for diplomacy and de-escalation, depending on the US response.
Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of Bourse & Bazaar, a publication that focuses on Iranian politics and economics, drew a comparison with the attack in September on installations of Saudi Aramco, the Saudi Arabian state oil company.
“The Aramco attacks demonstrated that Iran has the ability to conduct strikes with precision, minimising the risk of casualties, while still sending a clear message of capability,” he wrote on Twitter. “If that was indeed the gamble with this attack, we are lucky it worked. Both sides must de-escalate.”
Guy Chazan in Berlin, Michael Peel in Brussels and Helen Warrell
Additional reporting by Simeon Kerr