DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran condemned Donald Trump on Sunday as a “terrorist in a suit” after the U.S. president threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites hard if Tehran attacks Americans or U.S. assets in retaliation for the killing of military commander Qassem Soleimani
As the two countries assailed each other in a war of words, the European Union, Britain and Oman urged the parties to seek to de-escalate the crisis.
Soleimani, Iran’s pre-eminent military commander, was killed on Friday in a U.S. drone strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport, an attack that took long-running hostilities between Washington and Tehran into uncharted territory and raised the specter of wider conflict in the Middle East.
“Like ISIS, Like Hitler, Like Genghis! They all hate cultures. Trump is a terrorist in a suit. He will learn history very soon that NOBODY can defeat ‘the Great Iranian Nation & Culture’,” Information and Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi tweeted.
Soleimani was the architect of Tehran’s overseas clandestine and military operations as head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised on Friday that Iran would seek harsh revenge for his death.
Trump responded to that and other strong words from Tehran with a series of tweets on Saturday, saying Iran “is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets”.
The United States has “targeted 52 Iranian sites”, some “at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD”, he said.
The 52 targets represented the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran after being seized at the U.S. Embassy in 1979 during the country’s Islamic Revolution, Trump said.
The two countries have no diplomatic relations and on Sunday, Iran summoned the Swiss envoy representing U.S. interests in Tehran to protest at “Trump’s hostile remarks”, according to Iranian state television.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged Iran’s foreign minister by phone on Sunday to work to de-escalate the situation and invited him to Brussels to discuss ways of preserving world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
It was Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the deal in 2018 and reimposition of sanctions on Iran that touched off a new spiral of tensions after a brief thaw following the accord.
IRAQI LAWMAKERS WANT U.S. FORCES OUTIn Iraq, many people including opponents of Soleimani have expressed anger at Washington for killing him and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis on Iraqi soil and potentially dragging their country into another war.
Lawmakers planned a special parliamentary session on Sunday to push for a vote on a resolution requiring the government to ask Washington to withdraw U.S. troops from the country.
“There is no need for the presence of American forces after defeating Daesh (Islamic State). We have our own armed forces which are capable of protecting the country,” said Ammar al-Shibli, a member of parliament’s legal committee.
Despite decades of enmity between Iran and the United States, Iran-backed militia and U.S. troops fought side by side during Iraq’s 2014-2017 war against Islamic State militants.
The militia were incorporated into government forces under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces led by Muhandis. Some 5,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, most in an advisory role.
IRAN SAYS U.S. HAS NO COURAGE FOR WAR
Iran’s army chief, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi, was quoted by state television on Sunday as saying the United States lacked the courage for military confrontation with Iran.
“In a potential conflict in the future, which I don’t think they (Americans) have the courage to carry out, there it will become clear where the numbers five and two will belong,” he said.
Trump said on Friday Soleimani had been plotting imminent attacks on U.S. diplomats and military personnel. Democratic critics said the Republican president’s action was reckless and risked more bloodshed in a dangerous region.
Oman has called on the United States and Iran to seek dialogue to ease tensions, Oman News Agency reported on Sunday. Oman, which maintains friendly ties with both the United States and Iran, has previously been a go-between for the two countries.
British foreign minister Dominic Raab described Soleimani as a “regional menace” and said he was sympathetic to the situation the United States found itself in, while also calling for crisis diplomacy to avoid war.
“There is a route through which allows Iran to come in from out of the international cold,” Raab told Sky News. “We need to contain the nefarious actions of Iran but we also need to de-escalate and stabilize the situation.”
SOLEIMANI’S BODY RETURNS TO IRAN
Thousands of mourners turned out to pay respects to Soleimani after his body was returned to Iran, the official IRIB news agency reported. It posted a video clip of a casket wrapped in an Iranian flag being unloaded from a plane in the southwestern town of Ahvaz as a military band played.
Live state TV footage showed thousands of mourners marching through Ahvaz beating their chests.
While many Iranians have rallied to show grief over the death of Soleimani, seen as Iran’s second most powerful figure after Khamenei, others worry it might push Iran into war with a superpower.
Additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan in London, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Dubai, Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Frances Kerry