Early last Friday a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad airport killed Qassim Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, the security apparatus that extends beyond the country’s frontier. In response, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for “forceful revenge” and three days of national mourning, accordingly a missile attack was launched on a U.S. base in Iraq five days later.
While many in Iran consider him a hero-turned-martyr who helped bring peace between Iraq and Iran and ultimately was instrumental in the fight against ISIS in the Middle East; the Americans considered him a terrorist. According to a Pentagon Statement the General had planned attacks on U.S diplomat and service members on an Iraqi military base that killed an America contractor on 27 December.
Suleimani’s death has reverberated around Washington, Brussels and Tehran as the U.S., EU and Iran consider their next moves that will impact the stability of the Middle East, the fight against ISIS and the Iranian proliferation of nuclear weapons.
On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump held a press conference, urging NATO to increase its engagement in the Middle East. By this point, NATO had already decided to suspend its training of the Iraqi security services in its fight against ISIS for fear of retaliatory attack. France, Germany and others have said they want the “train-and-advise” mission to continue but the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution calling for the expulsion of foreign troops.
Two days after the killing of the General, NATO held an extraordinary meeting where the U.S. briefed allies about the situation, who in-turn urged restraint and de-escalation to stabilise the region. Speaking at a press conference, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, condemned Iran’s support of various terrorist groups. He also warned against further violence and provocations as “a new conflict would be in no one’s interest”. Since then, Donald Trump has threatened to destroy cultural sites within Iran, an action that has been widely considered as being in breach of internal law.
During the NATO meeting EU diplomats reiterated the calls by the UK, France and Germany for an easing of tensions to save the Iran nuclear deal. otherwise known as the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In a joint statement the countries “specifically call on Iran to refrain from further violent action or proliferation, and urge Iran to reverse all measures inconsistent with the JCPOA.” However, Donald Trump remained steadfast in wanting EU leaders to “break away from the remnants of the Iran nuclear deal”, which the U.S. decide to withdraw from in 2018.
Josep Borrell, the new EU foreign policy chief, who tweeted that the Iran Deal was “now more important than ever”, spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister and invited him for talks in Brussels. The invitation has not been responded to. It is considered that the EU has little leverage over reinvigorating the Iran Nuclear Deal, as they are unable to appease both the Americans and the Iranians and are being marginalised by both. The EU’s response was limited with Commissioner Ursula Von der Leyen calling a meeting to help the EU coordinate its reaction.
EU foreign ministers will hold talks today in Brussels on de-escalating tensions in the region to save the Nuclear Deal, while the German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Moscow on Saturday to discuss with Vladimir Putin about the nuclear deal that they are both signatories to.