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Donald Trump says 'time has come' for Europe to 'break away' from Iran nuclear deal

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Trump said Iranian "mayhem" would "!not be tolerated any longer"
Trump said Iranian "mayhem" would "!not be tolerated any longer"   -   Copyright  AP
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Europe must "break away from the remnants" of the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), President Donald Trump said on Wednesday as he announced fresh sanctions on Tehran following a missile attack on a United States base in Iraq.

"Peace cannot prevail in the Middle East as long as Iran continues to foment violence," he said, calling on Britain, France, Germany and the other JCPOA signatories to seek a new agreement with Iran.

"Soleimani’s hands were drenched in both American and Iranian blood. He should have been terminated long ago."

Trump contradicted Iranian claims that US soldiers were killed in the attacks overnight on bases near Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and in the Ain Assad airbase in Iraq's Anbar province.

"The American people should be grateful and happy," he said. "No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties … only minimal damage was sustained."

'Our missiles are big'

Trump said he will ask NATO "to become much more involved in the Middle East process."

He also admonished European allies, saying: "Nations have tolerated Iran’s destructive and destabilising behaviour. Those days are over."

He added: "The time has come for the UK, Germany, France, Russia and China to… break away from the remnants of the Iran deal or JCPOA."

Trump also gave a blunt warning to Iran, saying: "Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal and fast."

NATO gave a positive response to Trump's comments. Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg spoke to Trump on the phone on Wednesday and the pair "agreed that NATO could contribute more to regional stability and the fight against international terrorism," a statement said.

'Slap in the face'

Earlier, Germany and the UK condemned the Iranian missile strike. German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the government "rejects this aggression in the sharpest possible terms". China also warned against a military escalation in the Middle East.

Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khameini described the attack on bases in Iraq as a “slap in the face” that was “not sufficient” retaliation for the death of General Soleimani.

In a speech regularly interrupted by cries of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in Qom, he said that governments and people “do not approve” of U.S. presence the Middle East.

“America is the enemy, you know this very well,” he said.

In a further tribute to Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike January 3, he described the general as a “great martyr” and a “kind brother”.

“His martyrdom means that our revolution is alive. There are some people who want to pretend that the revolution has died in Iran. His martyrdom indicates the fact that the revolution is alive.”

Hassan Rouhani wants to 'force America out'

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran would seek to "force America out of this region".

"The real revenge and the ultimate response by regional nations is when America is expelled from this region and its hand of aggression is cut off forever."

He also said that European nations should be thankful that Soleimani fought Islamic State and other Islamist militant groups in Iraq and Syria.

But while the attack will serve to increase tensions in the region following the death of Soleimani, experts told Euronews that it was unlikely to lead to all-out war between Iran and the U.S.

"By striking so quickly and overtly, while also sending the message that Iran "does not want war," I think Tehran wants to swiftly close the door to any further escalation, rather than letting tensions linger for months," said Michael Horowitz, head of intelligence at LeBeck International in Bahrain.

"The ball is in Trump's court. Going by his response to the attack (stating that "all is well"), and given that there were no US casualties, I think there is a higher chance that the US will not respond in an escalatory manner — but Trump has also proven to extremely unpredictable."

And defence analyst Paul Beaver told Euronews that the missile strike might lead to the "opening stages of a non-military response" rather than an escalation of war from both sides.

Iran's most direct assault on the US since 1979

The missile strike was Iran's most direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and Iranian state TV said it was in revenge for the U.S. killing of Soleimani.

Foreign minister Javad Zarif tweeted shortly after the rocket launch, saying that the action were "measures in self-defence" under Article 51 of the UN Charter. He added that Iran does "not seek an escalation."

After the strikes, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator posted a picture of the Islamic Republic's flag on Twitter, appearing to mimic Trump who posted an American flag following the killing of Soleimani and others.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says he believes Iran's missile strikes on two Iraqi bases were intended to kill Americans.

Milley said 11 ballistic missiles that landed at al-Asad air base in western Iraq inflicted moderate damage, such as destroying or damaging tents and a helicopter.

United States targets

Ain al-Asad airbase was first used by American forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, and later saw American troops stationed there amid the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. It houses about 1,500 U.S. and coalition forces. The U.S. also acknowledged another missile attack targeting a base in Irbil in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

The Iranians fired a total of 15 missiles, two U.S. officials said. Ten hit Ain al-Asad and one the base in Irbil. Four failed, said the officials, who were not authorised to speak publicly about a military operation.

Two Iraqi security officials said at least one of the missiles appeared to have struck a plane at the Ain al-Asad base, igniting a fire. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the attacks, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they had no permission to brief journalists.

About 70 Norwegian troops also were on the airbase but no injuries were reported, Brynjar Stordal, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Armed Forces told The Associated Press.

Trump visited the sprawling Ain al-Asad airbase, about 100 miles or 60 kilometres west of Baghdad, in December 2018, making his first presidential visit to troops in the region. Vice President Mike Pence also has visited the base.