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World leaders call for de-escalation after US kills Iranian general

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Activists gather in Pershing Square to protest recent U.S. military actions in Iraq (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Activists gather in Pershing Square to protest recent U.S. military actions in Iraq (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)   -  
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AP - Damian Dovarganes
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World leaders are responding to the tensions between the US and Iran and Iraq, which have been ratcheting up since the killing of Iranian military chief Qassem Soleimani in the early hours of Friday morning.

Throughout the international community, leaders repeated calls to de-escalate the situation.

"Stop the escalation. Exercise maximum restraint."

"My message is simple and clear: stop the escalation. Exercise maximum restraint. Restart dialogue. Renew international cooperation," UN Secretary-General António Guterres said.

Speaking to reporters Monday, he appeared more worried, saying “the New Year has begun with our world in turmoil.”

Guterres expressed great concern at the recent rise in global tensions, stressing: “We are living in dangerous times.”

“Even nuclear nonproliferation can no longer be taken for granted," he said, apparently responding to Iran’s announcement of its plans to renew nuclear activities and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un saying he’s bolstering the country’s nuclear deterrent in the face of “gangster-like” U.S. pressure.

NATO is concerned about the security situation in the region

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg spoke after an emergency meeting in Brussels, confirming that the alliance would suspend its training activities in Iraq due to the security situation.

Stoltenberg added that NATO allies were concerned about Iran's activities in the region but emphasised that the attack was a "US decision". He said the US provided their rationale at an emergency meeting in Brussels.

"A new conflict would be in no one's interest. So Iran must refrain from further violence and provocation," Stoltenberg said.

Watch Euronews journalist Joanna Gill's report in the video player above.

The EU will hold an extraordinary foreign affairs council with member states on Friday.

A statement from the Elysee Palace released earlier on Monday set out a plea for de-escalation as the European Union seeks to give a cohesive response.

Macron said during a Cabinet meeting on Monday that he also condemns Iran's “aggressive intentions” and its decision to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal, according to government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye.

The French leader called for a de-escalation of tensions over recent events, including the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran's top military commander last week in Baghdad, Ndiaye said.

France's finance minister says the current tensions in the Middle East could affect global economic growth and reinvigorate Islamic State group extremists.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Monday on France-Inter radio that “you must always ask who is served by and who profits from this instability. The instability in the Mideast today benefits only one organisation: the Islamic State group.”

Le Maire added that the instability "will increase the terrorist threat over France and Europe.''

Meanwhile, a Downing Street spokesman said that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussed the "need to deescalate tensions in the region" in a phone call with his Iraqi counterpart.

Germany to move some of its troops to Jordan and Kuwait

Germany plans to move some of its small troop contingent in Iraq to neighbouring Jordan and Kuwait amid tensions.

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wrote to lawmakers that the troops in the Iraqi bases in Baghdad and Taji would be “temporarily thinned out.” The two officials stressed that talks with the Iraqi government on a continuation of the mission to train Iraqi troops would go on.

Germany has some 120 soldiers in Iraq, though the majority of them are not stationed in Taji and Baghdad but elsewhere in Iraq. The two ministers, speaking about those two locations, said that “the soldiers deployed there will promptly be moved to Jordan and Kuwait” and can be moved back if training resumes.

Germany had already ordered its soldiers in Taji and Baghdad not to leave their bases after the killing of Soleimani last week near the Baghdad airport.

Merkel to meet with Putin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Saturday, German officials said Monday.

Merkel and Putin will discuss "current international questions," said the chancellor's spokesman Steffen Seibert. Those will include Syria, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Ukraine and bilateral ties.

"Russia is an important player on the world stage and as a permanent member of the (U.N.) Security Council it's also indispensable when it comes to solving political conflicts,'' Seibert said. Germany is currently a non-permanent member of the Security Council.

Germany, Russia and other world powers have been trying to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran after the U.S. withdrew from the agreement unilaterally in 2018.

Merkel spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday about the situation in the Middle East, Seibert said.

Germany has offered to mediate between all parties following the killing of Soleimani.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who will accompany Merkel to Moscow, spent "all weekend on the phone'' with his European and American counterparts, his spokesman Rainer Breul told reporters.

Talks with the Iranian foreign minister are planned "soon'', he added.

Germany may struggle to portray itself as an honest broker between Washington and Tehran, however.

Iran summoned Germany's charge d'affaires in Tehran to the foreign ministry Sunday to express annoyance over comments by German officials that suggested Berlin considered Soleimani's killing to be justified.

Asked to elaborate on about Germany's stance, Merkel's spokesman said that the killing of Soleimani "was preceded by Iranian actions,'' citing attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

"We have always stressed, and perhaps this is an opportunity to do so once more, that we see these regional activities by (Iran) in particular in a very critical way and that they play a negative role in this region," Seibert said.

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