Boris Johnson has said the Iranian military leader killed in a US drone strike “posed a threat to all our interests” and the UK “will not lament his death”.
After speaking to president Donald Trump on Sunday, the PM made his first full statement on the death of general Qasem Soleimani and used it to call for de-escalation from all sides.
Johnson warned that all demands for reprisals “will simply lead to more violence in the region and they are in no one’s interest” in the wake of the killing in Baghdad on Friday.
The PM said he had discussed the spiralling Middle East crisis with European allies, including French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel.
He added he will also be speaking to Iraq “to support peace and stability” after its parliament called for the expulsion of foreign troops, including British soldiers working against so-called Islamic State.
Soleimani was head of the elite Quds Force and masterminded Tehran’s security strategy in the region. His death has led to rising tensions, with Iran accusing Trump of war crimes and lifting restrictions on the enrichment of uranium in the country.
Johnson said: “General Qasem Soleimani posed a threat to all our interests and was responsible for a pattern of disruptive, destabilising behaviour in the region. Given the leading role he has played in actions that have led to the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians and western personnel, we will not lament his death.
“It is clear however that all calls for retaliation or reprisals will simply lead to more violence in the region and they are in no one’s interest.
“We are in close contact with all sides to encourage de-escalation. I will be speaking to other leaders and our Iraqi friends to support peace and stability.”
The leaders of Germany, France and Britain later called for Iran to abide by the terms of the deal.
In a joint statement, Johnson, German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron urged Iran to refrain from conducting or supporting further “violent acts”.
It comes amid mounting criticism of the prime minister’s response to the Middle East crisis, with Johnson refusing to return from his luxury holiday in the Caribbean as ministers and security officials gathered for Cobra meetings in London.
He added that foreign secretary Dominic Raab had been in “constant contact with leaders and foreign ministers from across the globe” and that that government had “taken steps to increase the security of our personnel and interests in the region”.
The PM, who has faced a barrage of criticism from the opposition, said ministers are due to meet on Monday and that the government will update parliament on Tuesday.
Meanwhile in Tehran, a non-legally binding bill passed by Iraq’s parliament called for the expulsion of all foreign forces.
Some 400 UK troops are stationed in Iraq in the fight against IS, while the US has 5,200, prompting fears of a withdrawal that could cripple the battle against the terror group.
The Ministry of Defence was understood to be awaiting the decision of the Iraqi government before acting over the soldiers based there as part of the US-led coalition.
A UK government spokesman said: “The coalition is in Iraq to help protect Iraqis and others from the threat from Daesh (Islamic State), at the request of the Iraqi government.
“We urge the Iraqi government to ensure the coalition is able to continue our vital work countering this shared threat.”
Raab has defended Trump’s decision to launch the drone strike, accusing hardliners in Tehran of “nefarious behaviour” and saying the US has the “right of self defence”.
“The US will take their own operational judgment call but they’ve got the right of self defence,” Raab told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
“So we understand the position the US were in and I don’t think we should be naive about the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or indeed general Soleimani.”
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry warned of a “lurch towards war” arising from the president’s “reckless” decision to kill the general.
The Foreign Office strengthened travel advice to Britons across the Middle East including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, while the Navy was to begin accompanying UK-flagged ships through the key oil route of the Strait of Hormuz.