The US and Iran appeared to have stepped back from the brink of war after President Donald Trump resisted a further military response to Iranian missile strikes on allied troops in Iraq.
A volley of more than a dozen missiles aimed at two US bases on Tuesday night did not result in any casualties, with the US president crediting an “early warning system” for averting further bloodshed that would have deepened the crisis.
It is a shell that has currently been voided, but it remains a shell into which we can put substance againPRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON
In a televised address from the White House, Mr Trump seemed intent on de-escalating the confrontation with Iran, triggered by a US drone strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the elite Iranian Quds Force.
But the US president turned up the pressure on US allies, including the UK, demanding they abandon what he called a “defective” nuclear agreement with Iran and calling on Tehran to unilaterally cease uranium enrichment that could lead to an atomic weapon.
Speaking shortly before noon in Washington surrounded by his national security advisers, Mr Trump hailed the fact that no Americans, Iraqis or other allied troops were killed in Tuesday’s raids.
He added that Americans should be “extremely grateful and happy” with the outcome of the strike that killed Gen Soleimani.
Mr Trump said Iran appeared to be “standing down”.
Mr Trump also announced he would ask Nato to become “much more involved in the Middle East process”.
It came after a late-night tweet following the Iranian missile strikes in which he insisted “All is well!”
Tehran’s limited strike on two bases – one in the northern Iraqi city in Irbil and the other at Ain al-Asad in western Iraq – appeared to signal that it also wanted to avoid a wider clash with the US.
Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the country had “concluded proportionate measures in self-defence”.
But Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking yesterday, said the strike was not necessarily the totality of Iran’s response. “Last night they received a slap,” he said. “These military actions are not sufficient… What is important is that the corrupt presence of America in this region comes to an end.”
In his remarks, the US president said the “time has come” for Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China to “break away” from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Mr Trump said the “very defective JCPOA expires shortly anyway and gives Iran a clear and quick path to nuclear breakout”.
“Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism. The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China to recognise this reality.
“They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal – or JCPOA – and we must all work together towards making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place.”
Under the deal, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear programme and allow in international inspectors in return for the easing of economic sanctions.
Hours before Mr Trump’s remarks, Boris Johnson said the deal remains the “best way of preventing nuclear proliferation in Iran”.
He told MPs during Prime Minister’s Questions: “It is the best way of encouraging the Iranians not to develop a nuclear weapon… It is a shell that has currently been voided, but it remains a shell into which we can put substance again.”
The Prime Minister urged Tehran to hold back from further “reckless and dangerous attacks” and told President Trump during a phone call that there was a need for “urgent de-escalation”.
At the first Prime Minister’s Questions session since the election, Mr Johnson said: “We of course condemn the attack on Iraqi military bases hosting coalition forces.”
He added Gen Soleimani, who was killed by a US drone strike on 3 January, “had the blood of British troops on his hands”, because he had “supplied improvised explosive devices to terrorists”.
In a call with Mr Trump, the Prime Minister stressed the need for “urgent de-escalation to avoid further conflict”.
The message was echoed by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last night. Diplomatic sources said Mr Raab stressed there is still a path to a peaceful solution if all sides are willing to engage in meaningful talks.