Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to the UK over the weekend following a Caribbean winter vacation in Mustique, to a storm of criticism for his silence over the weekend as a military firestorm appears poised to be unleashed between UK-ally the United States, and Iran.
Mr Johnson is reported by some segments of the British press to have expressed his shock in a four-letter exclamation upon learning that the US had assassinated Iran’s top general Qassem Suleimani in Iraq on Friday.
Now back in the Britain, the prime minister immediately issued a statement saying Britain "will not lament" the death the Iranian general whom he called “a threat to all our interests.”
His remarks followed statements by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had appeared less than impressed with UK response and European Union(EU) response to Friday’s US action against Iran.
He’d said: "The Brits, the French, the Germans all need to understand that what we did, what the Americans did, saved lives in Europe as well... This was a good thing for the entire world."
In the UK, questions had been raised by the opposition over whether the prime minister should have cut short his holiday with his girlfriend in Mustique in light of the threat of a military conflict between the US and Iran.
On Sunday Prime Minister Johnson along with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement urging restraint. They specifically called on Iran to desist from actions which could further escalate tensions.
President Macron had previously discussed the situation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Friday morning.
Russia and China have criticised the action ordered by President Trump who justified the killing of General Suleimani by a precision drone strike as a preemptive action.
The US it had “intelligence” that Suleimani was "plotting imminent and sinister attacks" on US diplomats and military personnel in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The slain general was regarded as the mastermind behind Iran’s involvement in several ongoing conflicts in the Middle East including Iraq, Syria, Yemen and exploiting tensions in Lebanon and elsewhere.
Mr Johnson is discussed the matter with President Trump in a telephone call on Sunday.
The US is reported to have taken the action against General Suleimani without prior informing the UK or its other allies.
Prime Minister Johnson was expected to discuss the issue with his ministers on Monday and make a statement to MPs when the UK House of Commons (parliament) resumes on Tuesday, its first meeting after the Christmas and New Year break.
This development has displaced others at the top of the UK political agenda since the December 12th election which returned Mr Johnson to office with a clear majority.
But his call for a de-escalation of tensions was not expected to have much effect given the ferocity of reaction by Tehran to the killing of General Suleimani.
The Iranian leadership has ramped up its threats to exact harsh retaliation against the US.
Iran was already reeling under a series of economic and diplomatic sanctions by the US, the United Nations and the EU, in part for its nuclear program but also for its activities the Middle East, particularly its interventions in Iraq, Yemen and Syria, much of it coordinated by General Suleimani.
It now says it will resume its nuclear testing.
President Trump had previously ‘ripped up’ an agreement reached between his predecessor Barack Obama and Iran restricting Tehran from pursuing the development of nuclear weapons.
With the belligerence is now heading towards a crescendo, President Trump has doubled down with further threats of attack on Iran including, controversially, bombing Iranian cultural sites which are world-heritage-protected by the United Nations.
"They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way,” he said.
In a statement shortly after the killing of General Suleimani on Friday, President Trump had said the action by the US was to “stop a war, not start a war.”
General Suleiman himself was reported to have said to the US president previously: “If you begin the war, we will end it.”
In Iraq, where the Iranian general was killed by the US drone strike, the parliament has called for the immediate withdrawal of American troops.
But Mr Trump has hit back demanding that Iraq pays the US military investments and threatening to slap crippling sanctions on the country.
“We’re not leaving until they pay us back for it,” he insisted, adding that, “We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”
The US had led international forces in toppling the regime of former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, who himself had fought a previous drawn-out war with Iran.
Iran has been accused of fomenting a proxy war amongst rival factions in Iraq which was being manipulated by the slain General Suleimani.
A further 3,000 US troops are being despatched to the Middle East to join the 5,000 still there. President Trump had campaigned on reducing US military involvement overseas, especially in the area.
The Royal Navy has resumed patrolling and escorting British-flagged ships in the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 20% of global oil supply is shipped.
The UK Foreign Office is advising British citizens against travelling to Iraq, and to only undertake essential travel to Iran.
The world watches, waits and debates as the newly heightened tensions in the Middle East show no immediate signs of abating.
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