UK defense secretary urges Iran to act with restraint


British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace speaks during an event ‘NATO Engages’ at Central Hall Westminster in London, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. U.S. President Donald Trump and his NATO counterparts were gathering in London Tuesday to mark the alliance’s 70th birthday amid deep tensions as spats between leaders expose a lack of unity that risks undermining military organization’s credibility. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

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LONDON (AP) — Britain’s defense secretary urged Iranian leaders on Tuesday to refrain from retaliating for the slaying of Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an American drone attack.

Ben Wallace appealed for calm even as he told the House of Commons that Iran’s “aggressive behavior” such as hijacking civilian ships “was never going to go unchallenged.” Nonetheless, further conflict is in no one’s interest, he insisted.

“Her Majesty’s Government urges Iran to return to the normal behavior of the country it aspires to be and resist the urge to retaliate.”

The main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn challenged Wallace on whether U.S. actions were legal, describing the attack as an “assassination” that placed British troops and civilians “in danger.”

“Time and time again over the last two decades the political and military establishments have made the wrong call on military interventions in the Middle East,” Corbyn said. “This House must rule out plunging our country into yet another devastating war at the behest of another state.”

Corbyn also criticized Prime Minister Boris Johnson for handing the task of briefing the Commons to Wallace, rather than appearing himself.

But Wallace brushed off the criticism and defended government actions. He said it was up to the United States to explain its decision.

“From the information and intelligence that I have seen, what I could say is that it is clear there was a case for self-defense to be made about an individual who had come to Iraq to co-ordinate murder and attacks on U.S. citizens,” he said.

Wallace said urgent measures were being taken to protect British national and interests and in the Middle East. The defense secretary underscored that Britain remained committed to the region, and that the government was looking at the implications of the vote in the Iraqi parliament which called for the expulsion of foreign troops, who are in Iraq to help defend the nation against the Islamic State group.

“Our commitment to Iraq’s stability and sovereignty is unwavering and we urge the Iraqi government to ensure the coalition is able to continue our work countering this shared threat,” he said.

British forces in the region were on standby to assist if needed, while non-essential personnel had been relocated from Baghdad to Taji.

“As part of prudent planning, a small team has been sent to the region to provide additional situational awareness and contingency planning assistance,” Wallace told lawmakers.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab traveled to Brussels for meetings with European counterparts about the situation in the Middle East.

The talks are expected to assess the state of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers after Tehran announced Sunday it is withdrawing from further commitments in the agreement.

Raab will have a bilateral meeting with the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, before meeting with German and Italian counterparts.

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