London, Jan 5 (IANS) The UK’s Royal Navy warships have been ordered to escort British-flagged vessels in the Persian Gulf, in the wake of the death of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani who was killed in a US airstrike, it was reported on Sunday.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Saturday that the Navy’s HMS Montrose and HMS Defender will accompany UK-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz, as they did between July and November following the seizure of a British-flagged tanker by Iran, the BBC reported.
Wallace said that he had spoken to his US counterpart, Mark Esper, on Friday and urged all parties to de-escalate the situation.
“Under international law the US is entitled to defend itself against those posing an imminent threat to its citizens,” he added.
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who will travel to Washington on Thursday to meet US counterpart Mike Pompeo, said in a TV interview on Sunday morning that the UK was working with “our European and American friends” to try and “de-escalate and stabilise the situation”.
Raab said he had already spoken with Iraq’s President and Prime minister, and will also “reach out” to Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Asked whether the US was right to order the killing of Gen Soleimani, Raab said the UK understands the position Washington was in. “The US will take their own operational judgement call. They have got the right of self-defence,” he added.
Raab is expected to meet his French and German counterparts before travelling to the US capital.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is yet to issue a public statement on the January 3 airstrike, will meet foreign leaders this week upon returning to Downing Street after a 12-day Caribbean holiday, the BBC said in the report.
Following the strike, the Foreign Office has hardened its travel advice for Britons in Iraq and Iran. Officials also urged those travelling to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Israel to “remain vigilant”.
The Foreign Office also said alerts for other parts of the Middle East were being increased, with calls for citizens to “remain vigilant” in nations including Afghanistan, Israel, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
The January 3 airstrike, which was ordered by US President Donald Trump, hit Soleimani’s motorcade near the Baghdad International Airport.
A total of 10 people were killed, including the Iran Major General and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Front (PMF).
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani have vowed to retaliate against the US over Soleimani’s death.
The airstrike came after Iraqi protesters on December 31 stormed the US embassy compound in Baghdad to protest the American air raids conducted on December 29 against five bases of Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, claiming the lives of 25 people.