Three days on from the news of Qasem Soleimani’s assassination, Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel have issued a joint statement. It may be worth comparing to Dominic Raab’s words yesterday.
The Foreign Secretary sought to balance support for de-escalation with non-condemnation of America’s action. He said that it has the right to defend itself.
The statement doesn’t mention the United States at all – let alone Donald Trump. One wouldn’t know from it that either exist.
It condemns “the recent attacks on coalition forces in Iraq” and is “gravely concerned by the negative role Iraq has played in the region”. It name-checks Soleimani.
The three leaders then go on to “reaffirm our commitment to continue the fight against Daesh, which remains a high priority. The preservation of the Coalition is key in this regard.”
This is the heart of the statement. Their concern is that Iraq insists that American troops leave that country, and that ISIS colonises the space that then opens up.
They are also seeking to keep the nuclear deal with Iran alive. The latter’s own words and deeds don’t quite tally in this regard. On the one hand, it says the deal is dead. On the other, it says it will continue its co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The reasons for the delay in issuing the statement, and its silence on America’s right to defend itself, will be connected to the differences between the three countries.
Heiko Mass, Germany’s foreign Minister, has suggested that it may seek direct talks with Iran. This reflects the country’s traditional approach to the country. Mutual trade has been hit hard by America’s intensified sanctions.
Macron has spoken by phone to Barham Salih, Iraq’s President. “The two presidents agreed to remain in close contact to avoid any further escalation in tensions and in order to act to ensure stability in Iraq and the broader region,” the former’s office said.
A question that follows is that we asked yesterday: what’s Trump’s plan now? Are Soleimani’s killing and the intensified sanctions part of a plan to collapse the regime?
Or does the President instead believe that the Iranian regime must simply be put back in its box from time, when its aggression against America runs riot (as it has recently), by superior U.S firepower? Especially in an election year.
Or is he somehow hoping that bombs and sanctions will bring Iran to the negotiating table? After all, he is on record as having “good feelings” about a successor deal to Obama’s?
What evidence we have suggests that the second explanation is closest to the truth. One report today claims that the trashing of America’s Bagdhad Embassy sparked his reponse.
Where does the British national interest lie? On the one hand, Johnson won’t want to alienate Britain’s closest ally – with which he now hopes to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal.
This is why he has gone further than Macron and Merkel and said, in line with Raab yesterday, that he “does not lament” Soleimani’s death.
On the other, we have a direct security interest in preventing any revival of ISIS. Islamist terror in the UK to date has been executed by Sunni and not Shiite extremists.
The long line of incidents include: the London Bridge killings during the general election last month; the attack in the same vicinity during the 2017 contest; the Manchester arena bombing; the murder of Lee Rigby; 7/7.
Johnson is also clinging to the nuclear deal. In his memoirs, David Cameron represents it as the least bad choice.
Yes, he writes, “it left Iran able to destroy its missiles and to make trouble in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. But the most important thing is that we stopped a war, and did so safely. Of course, the problem that is Iran was not “solved”, but it was made less dangerous.”
Tomorrow in the Commons, Raab will be be pressed by Labour leadership candidates, Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalists playing to the anti-Trump gallery.
They will be easy to see off – particularly given the Government’s “stonking” majority. Ministers’ position will become more exposed if rational calculation fails and all-out war breaks out by accident – because America and Iran become caught up in a cycle of action and counter-action.
This site asks for strategic clarity. Which is the bigger problem for Britain? Iranian aggression in the Middle East? Or Sunni extremism here in the UK?
To date, it has clearly been the latter. The efficacy of the nuclear deal is debatable – and it may now be dead in any event.
But America, Britain and the West more broadly have expended much blood and treasure in putting ISIS on the ropes in Iraq. It mustn’t be let off them.