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NATO ambassadors to meet on Iran crisis: official

BRUSSELS: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) ambassadors will meet at their Brussels headquarters on Monday as Middle East tensions mount after the United States forces killed a top Iranian general.

“The North Atlantic Council will address the situation in the region,” a NATO official said.

“The secretary-general decided to convene the meeting of NATO ambassadors following consultations with allies.”

Last week’s killing of Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport surprised many of Washington’s allies and triggered calls for de-escalation.

US officials are due to give an update on the situation after Washington killed Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Middle East operations as commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport.

Tehran has vowed to avenge the commander, and US President Donald Trump has threatened “major retaliation” if any American targets are hit.

Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement late on Sunday urging Iran to “refrain from further violent action or proliferation” and criticising the “negative role” Tehran played in the Middle East through Soleimani’s forces.

The situation has also deteriorated in Iraq, where lawmakers have called for the 5,200 US soldiers deployed there to leave.

NATO maintains a training mission in Iraq, preparing local forces to take on extremists, but this would be in doubt if coalition forces pull out.

On Saturday, a NATO spokesman said the mission, which involves several hundred allied personnel, was continuing “but training activities are currently suspended.”

Another diplomat said the alliance would have to “wait and see” how Baghdad responds in the coming days.

“The big issue is the future of the NATO mission in Iraq after the demand of the Iraqi parliament yesterday to remove US-led coalition and foreign forces. We have to see what we will do now,” a NATO diplomat told AFP.

“From our point of view the parliament resolution is not binding. We take note of it, but have to wait what the government is going to do,” the diplomat said.

“We still think that the presence of international troops in Iraq should be continued in order to prevent a resurgence of Daesh. But we have to respect what the Iraqi government will eventually decide.”

He also confirmed that NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, had spoken by telephone with the US Secretary of Defence, Mark Esper, since Friday’s strike.

Iran was also warned not to flout the 2015 nuclear deal, which Washington pulled out of in 2018, after announcing further steps away from the beleaguered accord.

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