Dominic Raab has said Britain is “on the same page” as the US in relation to Friday’s assassination of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani.
Amid continuing questions about the legal justification for US actions, Raab said the UK government was “sympathetic” to Washington’s situation.
Speaking on Sky News, Raab said of Suleimani: “Let’s be very clear: he was a regional menace, and we understand the position that the Americans found themselves in, and they have a right to exercise self-defence. They have explained the basis on which that was done, and we are sympathetic to the situation they found themselves in.”
The foreign secretary said he had spoken to the Iraqi president and prime minister and French and German counterparts since the assassination, and Britain’s focus had been on restoring calm, and protecting its troops and citizens in the region.
“We are looking to de-escalate and stabilise the situation and that is something we have talked about with our European and our American friends,” he said.
“No one wants – I don’t think anyone benefits from – a war in the Middle East. The only people who would benefit would be terrorists, and Daesh in particular, and so we’ll be working with all of our partners, US and European partners, and those in the region, to get that message across.”
Concerns about instability were exacerbated by the US president’s latest bellicose tweet this weekend, saying he had identified a string of 52 potential targets in Iran, that would be “hit very fast and very hard” if Tehran took any retaliatory action.
Raab confirmed he would meet the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, in Washington this week, in a visit that he said had already been planned.
But asked whether he would be taking a “tough message” to Pompeo and his boss, Donald Trump, Raab said: “We’re on the same page with our American partners; we’ll continue to talk to them.”
Raab also defended the prime minister’s decision not to curtail his holiday on the tropical island of Mustique when news of Suleimani’s death emerged, saying Boris Johnson had been “in charge” throughout.
Raab’s stance was criticised by the shadow home secretary and Labour leadership contender, Emily Thornberry. She said Washington’s decision to kill Suleimani in a drone strike in Iraq risked sparking a war in the Middle East – and the government should make clear that it would play no part in such a conflict.
“I don’t shed any tears for Suleimani; I fully understand his pattern of behaviour. He was essentially in charge of the defence forces for Iran. Their behaviour across the region has been destabilising. He has the blood of many people on his hands,” she said, speaking on SkyNews.
“However, to ‘take him out’, at this stage, when there has been escalating tensions, seems to me to not be making the world safer: actually, we are taking a lurch towards war.”
Thornberry drew parallels with the build-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “What we should be saying quite clearly, now, is, ‘we will not be involved in this,’” she said, adding, “I believe that when I say that, I speak on behalf of the majority of the British people.”
The former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw said he had “real concern” about the implications of the killing of Gen Soleimani.
Speaking to BBC News on Sunday, Straw said: “Even if you accept, which I don’t, President Trump’s assertions that Qassem Suleimani was, quote ‘the world’s worst terrorist leader’, this was not a sensible action to take and it will have really serious implications for the west, for America and for the region as a whole.
“The other thing I thought when I heard about this, was how petrified the Iranians would then be, because of the penetration of their security screen around Qassem Suleimani. He is the second-most well-protected individual in the Iranian regime, and the Iranians will be neurotic to an extreme now, that their security and secrecy surrounding his movements was penetrated.”