Jeremy Hunt warns Iran: Do not underestimate US

Josie Ensor
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt delivers a statement on the sideline of the World Health Assembly at the United Nations Offices in Geneva.  - AFP

Britain has told Iran not to underestimate the resolve of the US, warning that if American interests were attacked then Washington would retaliate.

"I would say to the Iranians: Do not underestimate the resolve on the US side," Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Secretary, told reporters on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

"They don't want a war with Iran. But if American interests are attacked, they will retaliate. And that is something that the Iranians needs to think about very, very carefully."

Tensions have been rising between Tehran and Western powers in recent weeks.

President Donald Trump’s administration last month designated the Islamic Republic’s powerful Revolutionary Guards a terrorist entity, a decision led by hawkish National Security Adviser John Bolton. Iran retaliated by labelling all US troops in Syria as terrorists.

President Hassan Rouhani speaking during a government meeting in the capital Tehran. Credit: AFP

Last week, Washington ordered the evacuation of nonessential diplomatic staff from Iraq amid unspecified threats from Iran and rising tensions across the region. The White House has also sent warships and bombers to the Persian Gulf to counter the alleged Iranian threats.

On Sunday night, a Katyusha rocket hit inside Baghdad’s Green Zone not far from the US embassy, threatening an escalation.

No group claimed responsibility. However, Brig Gen Yahya Rasoul said the rocket was believed to have been fired from east Baghdad, an area where Iran-backed Shia militias are known to operate.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, criticised President Trump for his overnight tweet threatening the Islamic Republic with its "official end" following the rocket attack.

John Bolton, White House National Security Adviser, has taken a hawkish stance on Iran

Mr Zarif posted his own message Monday on Twitter, saying Trump had been "goaded" into "genocidal taunts."

Mr Hunt added that the UK has had discussions with Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, over the rising tensions. He said he hoped Iran starts to "pull back from the destabilising activities" it conducts in the region.

"We want the situation to de-escalate because this is a part of the world where things can get triggered accidentally," he said.

The US and its allies are concerned any conflict with Tehran will be played out through its proxy forces in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

Leading Iraqi Shia figures with close ties to Iran warned on Monday against attempts to pull their country into a war between the US and Tehran.

Iraq hosts more than 5,000 US troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias which largely operate under the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) umbrella, some of whom want foreign forces to leave.

Moqtada al-Sadr, a populist Shia cleric, said any political party that would drag Iraq in a new war "would be the enemy of the Iraqi people."

"This war would mark the end of Iraq," Sadr warned. "We need peace and reconstruction."