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Saturday February 22nd, 2020 1:24PM

The Latest: Japan calls for easing of Middle East tensions

By The Associated Press
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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The latest on U.S.-Iran tensions in the wake of the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran's top general (all times local):

7:40 a.m.

Japan says it will urge governments to do their utmost to help ease tensions following an Iranian missile strike at bases in Iraq used by U.S. forces.

The strike came in retaliation for the killing of an Iranian general.

Japanese Chief Cabinet spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday that his “government will coordinate with the related governments to collect intelligence while we ensure the safety of Japanese citizens in the region."

He added: “Japan will also urge all related nations to do their utmost diplomatic effort to improve the relations."

He said Japan remained on track to soon deploy a warship to the Gulf to help safeguard Japanese vessels and oil tankers transiting the area.

___

7:15 a.m.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says all of his country's troops and diplomatic staff in Iraq are safe after Iran's firing of missiles at two military bases there.

Around 300 Australian defense personnel are stationed in Iraq.

Morrison said he spoke with President Donald Trump about the situation between the U.S. and Iran on Tuesday during a call about the wildfires raging in Australia.

Sepaking to reporters Wednesday, Morrison said in reference to the killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani: “The United States have taken the action that they have to address what has been intelligence that they say that they received, which was putting their interests at risks and under threat."

___

6:45 a.m.

President Donald Trump says “All is well!” after more than a dozen Iranian missiles were fired at two bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq.

Trump tweets that casualty and damage assessments are ongoing but adds, “So far, so good!”

He says he will be making a statement on the strikes Wednesday morning.

Iranian state TV says the missile strikes were retaliation for the killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whose death last week in an American drone strike near Baghdad prompted angry calls to avenge his slaying.

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6:05 a.m.

Iran’s foreign minister is calling Tuesday night's ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops “proportionate measures in self-defense.”

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has also tweeted, “’We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”

His tweet follows the missile attack in retaliation for the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike last week in Baghdad.

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6 a.m.

Iran has buried a top Revolutionary Guard general slain by U.S. airstrike in Baghdad after a stampede at his funeral killed 56 and Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing American troops in response.

Officials lowered the shroud-wrapped remains of Qassem Soleimani into the ground in the southeastern city of Kerman just before 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Mourners at the grave site wailed.

Soleimani’s death in the airstrikes has drastically raised tensions between Tehran and Washington. Iran launched a ballistic missile attack just hours earlier on two Iraqi bases housing American troops.

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5:55 a.m.

A U.S. official says there were very few, if any, casualties from Tuesday night's Iranian missile attack on two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of a Pentagon briefing.

The official says 15 missiles were fired. Ten struck the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province. One struck a base in Irbil in Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region. Four missiles failed to hit their targets.

The official says the bases are still being searched for casualties.

Iranian state TV says the missile strikes were retaliation for the U.S. killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whose death last week — in an American drone strike near Baghdad prompted angry calls to avenge his slaying.

— Lolita C. Baldor

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5:10 a.m.

The Federal Aviation Administration is barring U.S. pilots and carriers from flying in areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace.

The agency is warning of the “potential for miscalculation or mis-identification" for civilian aircraft amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The emergency flight restrictions follow ballistic missile strikes Tuesday on two Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops.

Such restrictions are often precautionary in nature to prevent civilian aircraft from being confused for ones engaged in armed conflict. The FAA says the restrictions are being issued due to “heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the Middle East, which present an inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations.”

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4:30 a.m.

Vice President Mike Pence has briefed top Democrats in Congress on the Iranian strikes on installations in Iraq holding U.S. forces.

Aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer both confirmed the lawmakers spoke with the vice president by telephone Tuesday.

Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer, says the New York Democrat is closely monitoring the situation and is praying for the safety of service members and other personnel.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill tweeted that the speaker returned a call from the vice president moments after presiding over the House.

Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for the vice president, says Pence has been in continuous contact with national security officials and made calls to congressional leadership at President Donald Trump's direction.

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3:45 a.m.

The Pentagon is confirming that Iran has launched “more than a dozen ballistic missiles" at two targets hosting against U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq.

Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman says “It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran."

He says the attacks “targeted at least two Iraqi military bases" at Ain Assad and Irbil.

Hoffman says the U.S. is “working on initial battle damage assessments."

Iranian state TV says the attack was in revenge for the killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whose funeral Tuesday prompted angry calls to avenge his death.

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12:15 a.m.

Iran is protesting “inflammatory” and threatening statement from Israeli officials and calling on the U.N. Security Council to hold Israel accountable.

Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi pointed to Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz saying in a Dec. 6 interview that bombing Iran is “an option.” He also mentioned remarks by several Israeli defense officials who referenced a possible confrontation with Iran.

Ravanchi’s letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was circulated Tuesday but was written Dec. 27, before the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassam Soleimani, sparking fears of retaliation against U.S. ally Israel and other American targets.

11:00 p.m.

Chevron says it has moved all its non-Iraqi employees and contractors out of Iraq amid heightened tensions there between the United States and Iran.

Chevron said in a statement Tuesday that its workers' safety is a “top priority." Chevron has only been operating in the self-governing Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

The statement says Chevron has “local staff who are overseeing our ongoing operations” in the Kurdish area.

Mideast tensions have soared after a recent U.S. airstrike killed a top Iranian general, shortly after he arrived at Baghdad's international airport. Iran has vowed to retaliate.

10:30 p.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron has telephoned his Iranian counterpart to voice concern over events in Iraq, asking Tehran to "avoid any measures that would aggravate the escalation in progress."

Tensions have soared in after a recent U.S. airstrike killed a top Iranian general, shortly after he arrived at Baghdad's international airport. Iran has vowed to retaliate.

A statement from Macron's office Tuesday said he told Hassan Rouhani that Iraqi sovereignty and security would be strengthened by the presence of the international coalition in Iraq. He said the U.S.-led military coalition's "only objective is the fight against Daech," using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group.

Macron also called on Iran to "quickly return" to its commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal. The Iranian general's slaying has already pushed Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of the agreement.

8:50 p.m.

Canada's top general says his country's military is temporarily relocating some soldiers from Iraq to Kuwait.

Gen. Jonathan Vance made the announcement Tuesday. Western troops in Iraq have been on high alert since the killing of Iran's top general by a U.S. drone strike last week in Baghdad.

Canada has about 500 soldiers in Iraq to help fight the Islamic State group. Canada currently leads the NATO training mission in Iraq.

8:40 p.m.

Britain's defense secretary says urgent measures are being taken to protect British interests in the Middle East, as tensions rise between the U.S. and Iran.

Ben Wallace said Tuesday that the British government is looking at the implications of the vote in the Iraqi parliament that called for foreign troops. That came after a U.S. airstrike killed a top Iranian general shortly after he arrived at Baghdad's international airport. Iran has vowed to retaliate.

Wallace told lawmakers: “Our commitment to Iraq's stability and sovereignty is unwavering and we urge the Iraqi government to ensure the coalition is able to continue our work countering this shared threat,” in a reference to the Islamic State group.

He said British forces in the region are on standby, while non-essential personnel have been relocated from Baghdad to the city of Taji, around 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the north.

Wallace said: “A small team has been sent to the region to provide additional situational awareness and contingency planning assistance."

8:15 p.m.

Britain's defense secretary is urging Iranian leaders not to retaliating for the recent killing of their top general by the United States.

Ben Wallace appealed for calm Tuesday even as he told the House of Commons that Iran's “aggressive behavior" such as seizing civilian ships "was never going to go unchallenged."

Nonetheless, he says further conflict is in no one's interest. He added that “Her Majesty's Government urges Iran to return to the normal behavior of the country it aspires to be."

The main opposition Labour Party leader has questioned the legality of the U.S. actions.

Jeremy Corbyn is calling the Iranian general's killing an “assassination” that has placed British troops and civilians "in danger." He also warns against plunging the country into another war.

Wallace says it's up to the U.S. to explain its decision. He adds that from the intelligence he's seen "it is clear there was a case for self-defense to be made about an individual who had come to Iraq to coordinate murder and attacks on U.S. citizens.”

7:40 p.m.

U.S. embassies in a growing number of countries outside the Middle East are issuing security alerts to U.S. citizens.

Embassies in France, Algeria and Morocco issued alerts Tuesday warning of “heightened tension in the Middle East that may result in security risks to U.S. citizens abroad.”

The warnings also have been issued at some embassies in sub-Saharan Africa. The U.S. Embassy in Tanzania issued one Monday.

Governments and companies around the world are weighing how to respond after a U.S. airstrike killed a top Iranian general near Baghdad's airport last week and Tehran vowed “harsh retaliation."

6:30 p.m.

Sweden has joined a number of other countries in telling its citizens not to travel to Iraq, except to the self-governing Kurdish region. Tuesday's statement cited "changes in the security situation.”

Neighboring Denmark two days ago noted “a very high security risk” and said those who decide to travel to Iraq “should seek professional counselling.”

Governments and companies around the world are weighing how to respond to the rising tensions in the Middle East, after a U.S. airstrike killed a top Iranian general near Baghdad's airport last week. Tehran has vowed “harsh retaliation."

5:25 p.m.

National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien says the U.S. “will not tolerate" the latest threats by Iran as tensions rise over the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general last week in Baghdad.

O'Brien told Fox News Channel's “Fox and Friends” on Tuesday that Iranian threats to Americans, U.S. shipping interests and more “have been around for 40 years" since the Iranian revolution.

He says the U.S. is watching the situation carefully.

In comments to reporters afterward, O'Brien also defended the drone strike that killed Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani and the intelligence on which the Trump administration says the operation was based. He called the information “very strong."

The U.S. has asserted that Soleimani was plotting to kill American diplomats and soldiers in significant numbers.

4:35 p.m.

Egypt’s national airline EgyptAir has temporarily suspended flights to Baghdad. A statement by the country’s civil aviation authority says it is due to the turmoil that's taking place there.

A spokesman for the authority, Bassem Abdel Karim, says the airline will halt flights on Wednesday through Friday this week. He says authorities will then assess the situation and resume flights when they deem the situation safe again.

Governments and companies around the world are weighing how to respond to the rising tensions in the Middle East after a U.S. airstrike killed Iran's top military commander near Baghdad's airport last week and Tehran vowed “harsh retaliation."

4 p.m.

Lebanon's president says the country is working to prevent rising tensions in the region from affecting stability at home.

Michel Aoun made the remarks on Tuesday during separate meetings with the U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon and the commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force deployed along the border with Israel.

A statement by Aoun's office quoted him as saying it is important that calm continues along the Lebanon-Israel border and to "prevent negative developments from happening there."

The leader of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group has said the U.S. military will pay a price for killing Iran's top general and Iraqi militia leaders in Baghdad last week.

3:45 p.m.

Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto says relations between the United States and Iran are “in a critical state” and that the impacts of this crisis “threaten to extend also beyond the region."

His statement on Tuesday said the international community “must use all means" to create dialogue.

The Finnish head of state also reached out to neighboring Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. Both Nordic nations have troops in Iraq that are part of the international coalition.

He did not say whether troops would be moved out of Iraq, as some other European nations are doing.

3:20 p.m.

Croatia's defense ministry says the country's 14 troops in Iraq have been moved to Kuwait amid soaring tensions after a U.S. airstrike killed Iran's top commander in Baghdad last week.

The statement says any future steps also will be made in consultation with NATO allies.

A growing number of European countries are shifting troops out of Iraq.

Germany says it has moved 35 soldiers serving in Iraq to neighboring Jordan and Kuwait. Slovakia says it has moved its seven service members from Iraq to an unspecified location.

Slovenia, however, says its six soldiers in Iraq are staying there. They are posted at the Erbil base in northern Iraq. The defense ministry says it is constantly monitoring the situation and will make further decisions based on future developments.

3:10 p.m.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is traveling to Brussels for talks Tuesday with European counterparts about the situation in the Middle East as tensions soar after a U.S. airstrike killed a top Iranian general.

The talks are expected to assess the state of Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers after Tehran announced Sunday it is withdrawing from further commitments in the agreement.

Raab will have a bilateral meeting with the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, before meeting with German and Italian counterparts.

3 p.m.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry has issued a warning to its citizens in the Middle East citing security concerns after Iran said it would retaliate against the U.S. following the killing of Tehran's top military commander.

The Japanese warning dated Sunday tells citizens to stay in a safe area, maintain communications channels and keep family and friends updated on whereabouts.

Japanese auto giant Toyota says it has not made any policy changes on travel for its employees to the Middle East.

1:20 p.m.

China is criticizing the U.S. for reportedly denying a visa to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to attend United Nations meetings in New York.

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in Beijing on Tuesday that the U.S. has an international obligation to issue visas for such meetings as the host country of the U.N.

Zarif said the U.S. declined to issue him a visa, adding that “this is because they fear someone will go there and tell the truth to the American people.” Tensions have soared over the killing of a top Iranian general in a U.S. airstrike last week.

Geng also said China is highly concerned about the situation in the Middle East and urged the U.S. not to abuse the use of force. He called on all parties to exercise restraint to prevent a spiral of escalation.

1 p.m.

The remains of a senior Iraqi militia commander killed in a U.S. drone strike last week have been brought to Iraq from Iran for burial. Thousands of mourners clad in black chanted “America is the Great Satan" during the procession from the border.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a veteran Iraqi militant who was closely allied with Iran, was killed in the strike that also killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad.

Al-Muhandis' remains had been taken to Iran for DNA testing. They were sent back through the Shalamsheh border crossing to his hometown of Basra in southern Iraq before being transferred to the holy city of Najaf for burial.

Thousands of mourners in Basra's city center gathered to receive the body. Many waved banners of the Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, that al-Muhandis founded. The U.S. has blamed the group, which is separate from the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, for a rocket attack in northern Iraq in late December that killed a U.S. contractor. That prompted the airstrike last week.

12:30 p.m.

Slovakia says it has moved its seven service members from Iraq to an unspecified location. It is the latest European country to move troops in response to the soaring tensions after a U.S. airstrike killed Iran's top commander in Baghdad last week.

The office of Slovakia's Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini said Tuesday it will consult with NATO allies on further steps. Its seven service members have been in Iraq as part of a NATO training mission.

Germany plans to move some of its roughly 120 soldiers in Iraq to neighboring Jordan and Kuwait. Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wrote to lawmakers that the troops at the bases in Baghdad and Taji will be “temporarily thinned out,” news agency dpa reported.

The two officials stressed that talks would continue with the Iraqi government on a continuation of the mission to train Iraqi troops. The majority of Germany's troops are not stationed in Taji and Baghdad but elsewhere in Iraq.

8:30 a.m.

The leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has threatened to “set ablaze” places supported by the United States over the killing of a top Iranian general in a U.S. airstrike last week, sparking cries from the crowd of supporters of “Death to Israel!”

Hossein Salami made the pledge Tuesday before a crowd of thousands in a central square in Kerman, the hometown of the slain Gen. Qassem Soleimani. His vow mirrored the demands of top Iranian officials for retaliation against America for a slaying that’s drastically raised tensions across the Middle East.

Mourners carried posters bearing the image of Soleimani, a man whose slaying prompted Iran's supreme leader to weep over his casket on Monday as a crowd said by police to be in the millions filled Tehran streets.

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