EU foreign ministers will hold an extraordinary meeting in Brussels on Friday to discuss the situation in the Middle East after earlier this week, the world woke up to the news that the US had killed one of “the most important Iranian military commander”, Qassem Soleimani.
Four EU diplomats said the meeting was scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday. The EU’s External Action Service said it could not immediately confirm the meeting was taking place.
The leader was reportedly killed after the US was informed he was developing plans to attack citizens in Iran and Iraq, US military defence headquarters the Pentagon said.
The move could escalate a volatile feud between Iran and the US that could cause repercussions on the Middle East and beyond, political analysts said.
Ci Consulta’s correspondent in Brussels gives us a breakdown of how European leaders reacted to the news:
France called for calm, despite seeing its efforts to ease tensions between the US and Iran go up in smoke.
French European affairs minister Amélie de Montchalin said the country still prioritised stability and de-escalation. “Our priority… is the stability of the region,” France’s de Montchalin said.
The move had “consequences on peace in the region”, she said. French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and President Emmanuel Macron would consequently discuss the situation with various stakeholders.
Le Drian turned to US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, while Macron reportedly spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“France calls on everyone to exercise restraint, and on Iran to avoid any measure that could possibly aggravate regional instability, or lead to a serious nuclear proliferation crisis,” Le Drian said in a statement.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass also reached out to Pompeo, but was more open about how he felt about the US action.
“The U.S. military operation followed a series of dangerous provocations by Iran. However, this action has not made it easier to reduce tensions,” Maas said on Twitter.
The European Council issued a short statement by President Charles Michel, saying that the “cycle of violence, provocations and retaliations in Iraq over the past few weeks has to stop”.
Iraq remained a very fragile country and further escalation should be avoided at all costs, it insisted.
Weapons and militias were slowing the process to return to normal civilian life, they said.
The US action risked a generalised flare up of violence and of obscure forces of terrorism that “thrive at times of religious and nationalist tensions,” it said.
The Dutch foreign ministry told its citizens living in Iran to leave Baghdad as soon as possible in a safe way. It warned the situation was unpredictable.
The UK also called for de-escalation, while highlighting the threat Soleimani had posed throughout his life.
However, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab insisted “further conflict is in none of our interests”.
Maltese Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela said he was “concerned by the rising violence in Iraq”. However, he insisted that the security of diplomats remained paramount.
He tweeted this following concerns by the EU’s External Action Service on the attack and storming of the US embassy in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, Friday’s meeting announcement comes after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Sunday issued a personal invitation for Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to visit Brussels. However, two EU diplomats said there was no indication so far that Zarif would join Friday’s meeting, although one of them said such a scenario could not be ruled out.
Borrell on Sunday also sent a letter to EU countries saying Zarif had told him that Iran does not want to escalate tensions following the U.S. killing of leading general Qassem Soleimani.
Denise Grech – Ci Consulta (Brussels)