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UN Chief Urges Leaders To 'Stop Escalation' Amid Rising U.S.-Iran Tensions


Soleimani Mourned As Tehran, Washington Trade Threats
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WATCH: Soleimani Mourned As Tehran, Washington Trade Threats

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has joined a number of political leaders across the world in calling for restraint amid rapidly rising tensions between Washington and Tehran after the United States killed Iran's top military commander.

"The New Year has begun with our world in turmoil," Guterres said at the UN headquarters in New York on January 6.

"We are living in dangerous times. Geopolitical tensions are at their highest level this century. And this turbulence is escalating," he added, urging world leaders to "stop escalation, exercise maximum restraint, restart dialogue, renew international cooperation."

Earlier in the day, huge crowds packed the streets of Tehran for the funeral of General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq on January 3 on the orders of President Donald Trump.

Iran has vowed revenge for the commander's death and pulled back from the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, while Trump threatened to strike Iranian sites -- including ones of cultural significance -- should Tehran carry out attacks on U.S. interests.

Key Facts About Iranian General Qasem Soleimani
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As head of the Quds Force, the foreign arm of Iran’s hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the 62-year-old Soleimani helped orchestrate Tehran’s overseas clandestine and military operations.

Trump said Soleimani was plotting "imminent" attacks on U.S. diplomats and military personnel, without providing evidence of specific threats.

The Quds Force has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.

During the funeral ceremonies in the Iranian capital ahead of Soleimani's January 7 burial at his hometown of Kerman, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wept as he led prayers over Soleimani's casket.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei prays over Qasem Soleimani's body in Tehran on January 6.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei prays over Qasem Soleimani's body in Tehran on January 6.

Iranian state television broadcast live footage of the funeral procession, which included a prayer for the dead at the University of Tehran and passed along a three-kilometer route to Azadi Square in western Tehran.

Major streets were closed to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of mourners.

In a speech broadcast by state television, the Quds Force commander's daughter, Zeinab Soleimani, criticized Trump for ordering the assassination of her father. She told mourners that the assassination would bring a "dark day" for the United States.

"Crazy Trump, don't think that everything is over with my father's martyrdom," Soleimani told the funeral procession.

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Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rohani warned his U.S. counterpart on Twitter to "never threaten the Iranian nation," while Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed the United States had created "global anti-US fury and a worldwide rancor."

On January 5, Iran's government said it would no longer abide by any of the restrictions imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which Trump abandoned in 2018.

The pact limited Iran’s nuclear capacities in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Trump, who wants to force Iran to renegotiate the nuclear agreement, arguing that the terms were not tough enough to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, tweeted on January 6: "IRAN WILL NEVER HAVE A NUCLEAR WEAPON!"

Iran has refused to renegotiate the accord, insisting that its nuclear program was strictly for civilian energy purposes.

\The so-called E3 group of countries comprising France, Britain, and Germany -- which have maintained the nuclear deal along with Russia and China -- have called on Tehran to respect the accord.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said early on January 6 that "this could be the first step to the end of this agreement, which would be a big loss, so we will weigh this up very, very responsibly now."

The Russian Foreign Ministry urged all parties in the deal to treat it as a "priority" and called on European partners to fulfill their obligations to ensure Iran stays committed to it.

In a statement, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc was "deeply concerned" by Iran's announcement.

"From a European viewpoint, it is important for Iran to return to the nuclear deal. We have to convince Iran that it's also in its own interest," Von der Leyen said.

EU foreign ministers are to hold an extraordinary meeting in Brussels on January 10 to discuss the situation in the Middle East.

As Tehran and Washington engaged in heated rhetoric, Iraqi lawmakers on January 5, passed a resolution calling for foreign troops to leave the country, prompting a furious response from Trump.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump said that if U.S. troops are forced to leave Iraq "we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before, ever."

The United States military wrote to Iraq on January 6 saying the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State extremist group "will be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement."

"Coalition Forces are required to take certain measures to ensure that the movement out of Iraq is conducted in a safe and efficient manner," said the letter signed by Brigadier General William Seely, the commanding general of Task Force Iraq, according to AFP and Reuters.

They said the letter was addressed to the Iraqi Defense Ministry's Combined Joint Operations Baghdad.

However, Defense Secretary Mark Esper later told reporters in Washington that the United States had made "no decision whatsoever" about withdrawing troops from Iraq.

There are roughly 5,000 U.S. troops in the country.

During a meeting with China’s ambassador in Baghdad earlier in the day, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi said: “We do not accept that Iraq becomes a scene to settle scores.”

Abdul-Mahdi also held talks with the U.S. ambassador and told him that Iraq and the United States should work together on implementing the Iraqi parliamentary resolution.

"The prime minister stressed the importance of mutual cooperation on implementing the withdrawal of foreign troops…and to set relations with the United States on a proper foundation," according to his office.

After NATO ambassadors met in Brussels for emergency talks on the growing crisis in the Middle East, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the allies were "united in condemning Iran's support of a variety of different terrorist groups."

"At the meeting today, allies called for restraint and de-escalation. A new conflict would be in no one's interest. So Iran must refrain from further violence and provocations," Stoltenberg added.

NATO maintains a training mission in Iraq that involves several hundred personnel. The mission has been suspended since the strike on Soleimani.

'Still A Place For Diplomacy'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed with the Iraqi prime minister on the need to "de-escalate tensions" in the region and agreed to "work together to find a diplomatic way forward" when they spoke by phone on January 6, according to a statement from Johnson's office.

France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged Iran to "renounce any reprisals or retaliations" after Soleimani’s killing.

"There is still a place for diplomacy, fortunately," Le Drian told BFM television.

In Riyadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal appealed for calm as the Middle East region faced a "very dangerous moment."

"We hope that all actors take all the steps necessary to prevent any further escalation and provocation," he told reporters.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara would work to de-escalate tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Amid fears of sectarian violence, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said his country would not take sides in the confrontation between neighboring Iran and the United States.

"Pakistan's soil will not be used against any other state, and nor will Pakistan become a part of this regional conflict," Qureshi told the upper house of parliament.

The Middle East "is volatile and this region can’t afford another war. We are part of this region and when a fire erupts there, Pakistan can't escape," he said.

Pakistan -- an ally of Saudi Arabia, Tehran's arch regional foe -- is majority Sunni but has a large Shi'ite minority.

Thousands of Shi'a marched in several Pakistani cities on January 5 to show solidarity with Iran.

Some demonstrators clashed with police in the southern city of Karachi when they attempted to march on the U.S. Consulate.

Appearing on several U.S. television programs on January 5, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump's actions and issued a further warning to Iran.

He said if Tehran used its proxy forces -- in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and elsewhere -- to strike U.S. targets, the United States could attack Iran's leaders.

"They will be borne by Iran and its leadership itself," Pompeo said. "Those are important things the Iranian leadership needs to put in its calculus as it makes its next decision."

In a series of January 4 tweets, President Donald Trump said he had ordered the strike on Soleimani because the Iranian commander had organized attacks on U.S. and Iraqi targets and that he was "preparing for additional hits in other locations."

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the killing of Soleimani was a breach of international law and that any targeting of cultural sites would constitute a war crime.

"Those masquerading as diplomats and those who shamelessly sat to identify Iranian cultural & civilian targets should not even bother to open a law dictionary," Zarif wrote in a January 5 tweet. "Jus cogens refers to peremptory norms of international law, i.e. international red lines. That is, a big(ly) 'no no'."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa
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