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UK reduces embassy staff in Baghdad, Tehran

The U.K. has reduced the number of staff at its embassies in Tehran and Baghdad due to heightened tensions in the region following the killing of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani last week.

The withdrawal of some diplomats is a precautionary measure, local media including Sky News reported.

Ambassadors Rob Macaire in Tehran and Stephen Hickey in Baghdad will remain in place, according to reports.

"The safety and security of our staff is of paramount importance, and we keep our security posture under regular review,” a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) was quoted as saying by local reports.

“Both our embassies in Baghdad and Tehran remain open," he said.

The local reports also suggest that the FCO has entered "crisis mode."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with senior cabinet ministers Monday afternoon, including Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace to evaluate the latest crisis.

Raab said the U.K. government's key message is the "importance of de-escalating the tensions and finding a diplomatic way through this crisis."

"We have been clear that cultural sites are protected under international law, and we would expect that to be respected," Raab said, distancing Britain’s position from U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent threat to Iran of launching a bombing campaign on its cultural sites if it retaliates for the killing of Soleimani.

Johnson also held a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, and the two leaders had "agreed to work together to find a diplomatic way forward," according to a Downing Street spokesman.

"The prime minister [Boris Johnson] underlined the U.K.'s unwavering commitment to Iraq's stability and sovereignty and emphasized the importance of the continued fight against the shared threat from Daesh," the spokesman added.

Johnson is expected to chair a National Security Council meeting Tuesday morning.

Soleimani, the head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' elite Quds Force, was killed in a U.S. drone strike outside Baghdad International Airport on Friday.

Soleimani's assassination marked a dramatic escalation in tensions between the U.S. and Iran, which have often been at a fever pitch since Trump chose in 2018 to unilaterally withdraw Washington from a nuclear pact that world powers struck with Tehran.

Iran has promised to take revenge for Soleimani’s killing and announced Sunday that it would stop complying with the 2015 nuclear deal it signed with six major world powers. Trump has since threatened to target cultural sites in Iran.


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