‘The criminal assassination of Qassem Soleimani must be pursued vigorously’ – Iran’s Parliament Speaker Qalibaf

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Thousands of Iranians attended the commemoration of martyr Lt. Gen. Soleimani in Mashhad

RAN’S Parliament Speaker Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf has called on neighbouring Iraq to ‘vigorously’ follow up on the US assassination of top anti-terror commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, censuring the crime as a stain on the record of American statesmen.

‘The United States violated Iraqi territory and impudently assassinated those who risked their lives to crush the bones of terrorism. This is not a simple issue. The American assassination is a major case that must be pursued vigorously,’ Qalibaf said in a meeting with visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Tehran on Wednesday.
General Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), was killed in a fatal US drone strike near Baghdad airport on January 3, along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) counter-terrorism force, and eight other Iranian and Iraqi people.
‘The criminal assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, an international hero in the fight against terrorism, and the great martyr Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and their companions, on the direct order of President Trump, is a stain of shame that will never be erased from the faces of White House officials,’ the top parliamentarian said.
The Islamic Republic, he added, believes that stability will not return to the region as long as foreign forces are present.
Qalibaf also highlighted the historical and religious bonds between the two neighbouring nations and said: ‘We fought Daesh and Takfiris and emerged victorious. The Islamic Republic of Iran has been standing by the Iraqi government since the start of their anti-terror fight.’
Iran’s top security official says insecurity in the Middle East stems from the illegitimate presence of the United States and its malicious acts.
The Parliament chief said political, economic and cultural relations between the two sides have been growing at a proper rate, calling for serious efforts to further enhance bilateral ties in various sectors.
Kadhimi, for his part, hailed Iran for backing the Iraqi government and nation during the fight against Daesh.
Iraq, he added, will not forget that Iran is an important neighbour and thus will continue developing bilateral economic, cultural and security ties.
Iraq will not allow its territory to be used as a ground for security threats against the Iranian nation, Kadhimi stressed.

  • China has said the United States government has ‘abruptly’ informed Beijing that it has to close its consulate in the Texan city of Houston, calling Washington’s decision ‘political provocation’.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Wednesday that the US government had informed Beijing of the abrupt decision on Tuesday.
‘China strongly condemns this outrageous and unjustified move to sabotage China-US relations. The Chinese side urges the US side to immediately retract this wrong decision,’ Wang said.
China urges the US to immediately withdraw its wrong decision or China will definitely take a proper and necessary response, he added, while noting that the Chinese consulate in Houston was operating normally.
Local media in Houston reported that firefighters and police had been called to the consulate building on Tuesday evening after receiving reports that documents were being burned in the building’s courtyard.
The Twitter feed of the Houston police force said smoke was observed, but officers ‘were not granted access to enter the building’.
Meanwhile, citing ‘a person with direct knowledge of the matter’ as saying on Wednesday that China was considering ordering the closure of the US consulate in Wuhan in potential retaliation.
Relations between the United States and China have hit the lowest level in decades. The two are at loggerheads over a range of issues, including trade, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the South China Sea, and the coronavirus pandemic. In all of those cases, Washington has been aggressively ramping up rhetoric against Beijing in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described China as a ‘threat’ that countries should push back against.
After a meeting in London with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Pompeo told reporters that China was bullying its neighbours and pushing its claims to maritime regions that he said it had no lawful claim to. Pompeo said he wanted to ‘build out a coalition that understands this threat’.
Last week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said American officials had ‘gone mad’ in dealing with China.
Earlier, Pompeo had said the United States would do everything it could to support China’s rivals in territorial disputes.

  • Russia and Turkey have agreed to work harder for a sustainable ceasefire in Libya in coordination with the United Nations.

In a joint statement released on Wednesday in Ankara, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the two countries would continue joint efforts to create ‘conditions for a lasting and sustainable ceasefire’.
Ankara and Moscow also agreed to facilitate the ‘advancement of the intra-Libyan political dialogue’ in line with the 2020 Berlin Conference on Libya.
In January, a conference took place in the German capital in order to start a political process and reach a permanent ceasefire in Libya.
Several countries have expressed a commitment to support the truce, respect an arms embargo, and support the UN-facilitated political process.
Elsewhere in the statement, the two countries called on the Libyan parties to take measures for the ‘safe humanitarian access and delivery of urgent assistance to all those in need’.
Turkey and Russia would also consider creating a ‘Joint Working Group on Libya.’
It has been about two rival groups fighting for power in Libya since 2014.
There has been an international call for de-escalation in Libya through the removal of foreign forces.
A big escalation could risk igniting a direct conflict among the foreign powers that have poured in weapons and fighters in violation of the arms embargo.
The Government of National Accord (GNA), which is backed by the UN, in Tripoli has the support of Turkey, while renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) based in Benghazi is supported by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Haftar claims his self-styled army has ‘accepted the will of the people and its mandate’.
On Monday, the Egyptian Parliament unanimously approved the deployment of troops outside the country, laying the groundwork for a possible military intervention in Libya.
The move could bring Egypt and Turkey, both allies of the United States, into direct confrontation.
Tensions escalated further last year after the LNA moved toward Tripoli to seize the city.
Libya has been beset by chaos since the overthrow and killing of its long-serving ruler Muammar Gadaffi following a NATO intervention in 2011.

  • Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says Tehran and Moscow have agreed to devise and conclude a long-term strategic cooperation agreement.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Zarif said the agreement was made during his Tuesday visit to Moscow, where he met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and talked with President Vladimir Putin on the phone for one hour due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Describing his talks with Russian officials as fruitful, Zarif said he held intensive negotiations with the authorities in Moscow for four and a half hours that resulted in the agreement.
He pointed to a 10-year agreement initially inked between Tehran and Moscow two decades ago, which has been extended twice for five years each time and is due to expire in eight months.
‘If no one has any objection, the agreement will be extended automatically for another five years, but we decided it would be better to devise a long-term comprehensive strategic treaty and update it,’ he added, noting the agreement will be sent to Iran’s Parliament for approval.
Zarif travelled to Moscow to hold talks with senior Russian officials on issues of bilateral and regional significance and to convey President Hassan Rouhani’s ‘important’ message to Putin.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says he has delivered an ‘important’ message from Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, adding that Tehran and Moscow agreed to finalise a long-term comprehensive deal on strategic cooperation.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi also accompanied Zarif in his third visit to Russia in the past six months.
Elsewhere in his remarks, the top Iranian diplomat commented on a recent article by US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, in which the American official expressed scepticism at a recent strategic partnership announced by Iran and China.
In a joint opinion article published in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Hook and the US Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Keith Krach took aim at a 25-year strategic partnership recently announced between China and Iran.
They noted in the article other parts of the partnership between Iran and China that they claimed could cause their alliance more harm than good and praised companies and countries that have sought to cut business ties with Iran and China.
In response to the article, Zarif described Hook as the ‘architect of the maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran.
He has definitely never been benevolent towards the Iranian people or he would not have imposed economic terrorism against them under conditions that the people are grappling with the novel coronavirus pandemic, the minister said.
‘The 25-year cooperation agreement between Iran and China is completely transparent. Nothing has been finalised yet, but we are very close to an agreement,’ Zarif said.
He dismissed rumours about the agreement and noted that the US is making a hue and cry as it is concerned about the emergence of new powers like Iran, China and India.
Due to Covid-19, face-to-face negotiations have not yet taken place, so no document is currently valid, Zarif said, but stressed that so far, all the steps taken have been transparently announced.
‘There are no hidden points in the Iran-China cooperation document,’ he concluded.
Zarif said earlier the agreement is at the ‘negotiation’ stage, noting that the Foreign Ministry has obtained the required permission from the government to engage in the relevant talks.
Iran will not give ‘even a handspan’ of its soil to China, or any other country, Zarif emphasised.
Zarif dismissed rumours that a 25-year agreement between Iran and China entails cession of some parts of the Iranian territory to Chinese contractors.
Speaking to ICANA News Agency, the Iranian Parliament’s news outlet, last Thursday, he dismissed rumours and anti-Iran reports that the 25-year agreement with Beijing entails cession of some parts of the Iranian territory to Chinese contractors.
‘These allegations are not true. There is not even a particle of truth to these allegations, which have been put forth,’ he added.