U.S.-Iran Tensions: Geopolitical Conflict At Highest Level This Century, UN Chief Says
Antonio Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations. (Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg)

U.S.-Iran Tensions: Geopolitical Conflict At Highest Level This Century, UN Chief Says

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Voicing his concern over rising geopolitical tensions amid friction between U.S. and Iran over Qassem Suleimani’s assassination, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said such conflicts are at their highest level this century and nations are taking unpredicted decisions that have a profound risk of miscalculation.

“The New Year has begun with our world in turmoil. We are living in dangerous times. Geopolitical tensions are at their highest level this century. And this turbulence is escalating," he said.

Warning that even nuclear non-proliferation can no longer be taken for granted, he said the "cauldron of tensions" globally is leading more and more countries to take "unpredicted decisions with unpredictable consequences and a profound risk of miscalculation".

U.S.-Iran tensions have escalated since Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, who led the powerful Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, was killed in an U.S. drone strike in Baghdad on Friday.

The strike was authorised by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Iran has vowed to avenge Suleimani's assassination. On Sunday, it indicated that it would no longer be bound by the restrictions on its nuclear programme, outlined in the 2015 deal—Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. The deal was debated in the UN Security Council just last month.

On Sunday, the Iraqi parliament also passed a non-binding resolution calling for U.S. troops to leave the country, in a clear response to the killing of the Iranian general on their soil. In response, Trump has threatened Iraq with sanctions if forced to withdraw its forces, and also threatened on Twitter, to destroy multiple sites of "cultural" significance within Iran, if there are reprisal attacks against Americans.

Also read: Trump Vows Sanctions on Ally Iraq, Toughens Rhetoric on Iran

China's Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun told reporters that Beijing is following the situation very closely and the pressing task at the moment is to prevent the situation from further escalating and running out of control.

Regarding the U.S. pushing for a press statement on the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, Zhang said China does not accept the U.S. accusation.

He said China firmly supports protection of foreign missions in accordance with the international law but the U.S.’s unilateral military action has led to drastic changes in regional situation.

Also read: Why China Won’t Join Any Iran-Russia Coalition Against Trump

The Chinese envoy added that action taken by the UN Security Council should reflect latest developments of the situation and help prevent escalation of tensions.

The U.S. Mission to the UN blamed China and Russia for blocking a UN Security Council statement condemning the Dec. 31 attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

"Indeed, not allowing the United Nations Security Council to issue the most basic of statements underscoring the inviolability of diplomatic and consular premises once again calls the Council's credibility into question. Such expressions of support should not be controversial or warrant courage," it said.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters that Moscow condemns strongly the attack on the American Embassy in Baghdad but the UNSC statement that was "nearly ready" was not taking into account subsequent actions like the attack on the Baghdad airport that targeted Suleimani.

"We now have to talk about territorial integrity, about sovereignty of Iraq, about the need to de-secalate in the regions and prevent developments going down the drain, in the direction of a major conflict."

Guterres told reporters amid these global tensions, there are trade and technological conflicts that fracture world markets, undermine growth and widen inequalities.

“Our planet is on fire. The climate crisis rages on. In many parts of the world, we see many people frustrated and angry.

“We see increased social unrest and growing extremism, nationalism and radicalization, with a dangerous advance of terrorism, notably in Africa,” he said.

He said it was clear that "this situation cannot go on. I have been following the recent rise in global tensions with great concern. I am in constant contact with leading officials around the world".

The UN chief had a clear four-point message for what needs to happen now, in capitals across the world: "Stop escalation. Exercise maximum restraint. Re-start dialogue. Renew international cooperation."

"Let us not forget the terrible human suffering caused by war. As always, ordinary people pay the highest price. It is our common duty to avoid it," he said.

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