In Brief

UK cautiously backs Trump while calling for calm over Iran attack

Boris Johnson urges de-escalation but adds Qasem Soleimani was ‘a threat to all our interests’

The British government has called for calm in the wake of the US’s controversial decision to assassinate Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, a move that has thrown the Middle East into turmoil.

Amid what The Guardian says are “continuing questions about the legal justification for US actions”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally broke cover on Sunday to say Soleimani was “a threat to all our interests” adding “we will not lament his death”. 

However, Johnson also called for de-escalation by all sides and said that steps have been taken to increase security around UK personnel and interests in the Middle East.

The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, had taken a firmer position earlier on Sunday, saying the UK was “on the same page” as the US government and was “sympathetic” to Washington’s situation.

The statement represented “a marked shift towards supporting the incendiary attack” says The Independent and came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticised the UK, France and Germany for failing to be “as helpful as I wish that they could be”.

In an article in The Observer, shadow foreign secretary and leadership Labour leadership hopeful Emily Thornberry criticised Johnson for failing to cut short his Caribbean holiday amid the mounting crisis, asking whether he had been “afraid of angering President Trump? Or is it simply that, as he lounges in the Caribbean sun, he simply does not care.”

His government’s response will have done little to assuage concerns the UK government is cosying up to the Trump administration on the world stage in the hope of securing a quick post-Brexit trade deal at home.

The Times cites one senior figure who described Johnson’s stance as “pretty doveish” and signalled that “his primary concern was to avoid Britain being dragged into a war”.

However, senior officials, “expressed incredulity that more of [Johnson’s] team did not return to work quickly after the Christmas break to take charge of their first foreign policy crisis”, says the paper.

The Daily Telegraph reports there “appears to have been some dispute at the top of Government about how to proceed over the weekend with Foreign Office sources saying the Government had to tread a fine line to avoid putting the UK ‘front and centre for any retaliation’ which had presented the UK with a ‘strategic choice’”.

Following reports Tehran-backed hackers had breached a US government website, “there are fears that Britain’s national infrastructure and government departments could be targeted in retaliation by Iran”, says the paper.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For a round-up of the most important stories from around the world - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda - try The Week magazine. Start your trial subscription today –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Much now depends on how Iran responds.

In an interview with CNN in Tehran, Hossein Dehghan, the military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, said on Sunday “the response for sure will be military and against military sites.”

It comes after Donald Trump threatened 52 Iranian targets – a reference to the 52 US hostages seized in the US Embassy in Tehran back in November 1979 – as well as those important “to the Iranian culture”, which “suggests a much wider target list than just leadership, military or economic sites” writes BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

“President Trump is struggling to establish some kind of deterrence” he says “but the ball is now very clearly in Iran's court and it is very hard to see how Tehran can fail to act”.

Recommended

Will Boris Johnson step down as an MP?
Boris Johnson
Talking point

Will Boris Johnson step down as an MP?

Has Gaza avoided a fifth full-scale war?
A Palestinian woman walks through rubble in front of her home in Gaza
Today’s big question

Has Gaza avoided a fifth full-scale war?

‘Ninja’ missile part of a scary new generation of unregulated weapons
A Hellfire missile is loaded onto a US Air Force unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in 2016
Expert’s view

‘Ninja’ missile part of a scary new generation of unregulated weapons

The Line: Mohammed bin Salman’s desert fantasy
Saudi Arabia wants to build a vertical city called The Line
Global lens

The Line: Mohammed bin Salman’s desert fantasy

Popular articles

Will China invade Taiwan?
Chinese troops on mobile rocket launchers during a parade in Beijing
Fact file

Will China invade Taiwan?

Is World War Three on the cards?
Ukrainian soldiers patrol on the frontline in Zolote, Ukraine
In Depth

Is World War Three on the cards?

Best new TV crime dramas of 2022
Roger Allam and Nancy Carroll in Murder in Provence
In Depth

Best new TV crime dramas of 2022

The Week Footer Banner