Will welcome any peace initiative by India to defuse tension with US: Iran

Hours after Iran fired ballistic missiles at military bases hosting US forces in Iraq, Iran’s envoy to India Ali Chegeni sought India’s mediation in defusing tension, saying Iran wants peace not war

Iran’s ballistic missiles hit a military base hosting US and colaition forces in Iraq on Wednesday, Jan 8, 2019.
Iran’s ballistic missiles hit a military base hosting US and colaition forces in Iraq on Wednesday, Jan 8, 2019.


Iran will welcome any peace initiative by India to de-escalate tensions with the US following the killing of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian envoy in New Delhi said on Wednesday while asserting that his country wants peace not war.

Iran's Ambassador to India Ali Chegeni also expressed hope there would be no further escalation in hostilities between his country and the US.

The ambassador's comments came hours after Iran launched over a dozen ballistic missiles targeting at least two bases where US military and coalition forces' are stationed in Iraq. Tehran said it was a "slap in the face" of America.

"India usually plays a very good role in (maintaining) peace in the world. India belongs to this region. We welcome all initiatives from all countries, especially India as a good friend for us, to not allow escalation (of tensions)," Chegeni told reporters after a condolence meeting for Soleimani at the Iranian Embassy in New Delhi.

"We are not for war, we are looking for peace and prosperity for everybody in this region. We welcome any Indian initiative or any project that can help peace and prosperity in this world," he said.

Maj Gen Soleimani, 62, the head of Iran's elite al-Quds force and architect of its regional security apparatus, was killed when a US drone fired missiles into a convoy that was leaving the Baghdad International Airport early on Friday. The strike also killed the deputy chief of Iraq's powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force.

On the Iranian attack on US targets in Iraq, Chegeni said his country retaliated under its right to defend.

Amid spiralling US-Iran tensions over the killing of Soleimani, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Sunday had a conversation with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, voicing India's concerns over the escalation of tensions.

India has reached out to several stakeholders in the region over the security situation prevailing in the Middle East.

Jaishankar has also separately spoken with Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf Alawi, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as well his Jordanian and Qatari counterparts Ayman Safadi and Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani respectively, on the tense situation in the region.

Noting that India is a "good friend", Chegeni said, "My minister (Javad Zarif) talked to Dr Jaishankar, they had a very good discussion. Recently we had the joint economic commission in Tehran...We see a very good future for the relationship. We have no problem with India." He said Iran and India can jointly work for peace in the world.

Asked if Indian officials have reached out to the Embassy with a condolence message, the Iranian envoy said the embassy had opened a condolence book for two days and he expects Indian officials to come but it is "up to the Indian side".

"Usually we have good relations and sympathy between the two countries," he said.

The Iran Embassy in New Delhi has been seeing a steady stream of envoys coming and expressing condolences on the death of Soleimani.

Concerns have mounted across the globe over fast-deteriorating diplomatic ties between the US and Iran, and the spiralling tensions in the Gulf after Soleiman was killed.

Talking about the US drone strike that killed Soleimani, Chegeni said, "He was in a third country. So this is very important for the world to not allow such an inhuman, illegal act which is against international rights." "He (Soleimani) was the one who removed the threat of ISIS from the world. Why you should kill him. That means you are supporting terrorists. If Gen Soleimani didn't act against ISIS, what would have happened to India, to Europe, and to all of the world because ISIS was really anti-human," he said.

"That is why my country today officially retaliated based on the legitimate rights we have....We are not for war. We are not for escalation, but defending is our right," Chegeni said.

"This is not revenge, this was the right of our people. All the Iranian people asked for retaliation, early morning at the same time our national hero was attacked... we attacked the military bases," he said.

Amid tensions, most airlines are avoiding Iranian and Iraqi airspace for flights to the region after Tehran fired ballistic missiles against bases housing US troops in Iraq.

Air India spokesman Dhananjay Kumar said the airline's carriers Air India and Air India Express would "temporarily" be rerouted to avoid Iran.

"As a precautionary measure and following news of air strikes underway, Air France has decided to suspend until further notice all flights through Iranian and Iraqi airspace," an Air France spokesman told AFP.

Shortly after the missile attacks, the US Federal Aviation Administration said it was banning US-registered carriers from flying over Iraq, Iran and the Gulf.

Its Russian counterpart, the Federal Air Transport Agency, said it was recommending airlines avoid the air space over Iran, Iraq and the Persian and Oman Gulfs "due to information about current risks for safety of international passenger flights".

The region is an important corridor for flights travelling between Europe and Asia, although planes can be rerouted.

In Germany, Lufthansa said it had cancelled its daily flight to Tehran in addition to halting overflights of Iran and Iraq until further notice.

It added that Saturday's twice-weekly service to northern Iraqi city of Erbil would also not depart.

UAE carriers Emirates Airline and low-cost Flydubai said they had cancelled flights to Baghdad for "operational reasons".

Australia's Qantas said one of its London-Perth flights would be rerouted, with the other already flying an alternative route.

"We're adjusting our flight paths over the Middle East to avoid the airspace over Iraq and Iran until further notice," said a spokesman.

Both Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines said they would divert flights from Iranian airspace.

Japanese airlines ANA and JAL, and Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific said their planes do not fly through airspace affected by latest flare-up.

Meanwhile, China on Wednesday urged restraint from all sides, saying Beijing would play a "responsible role" in helping to defuse tensions.

It is not in the interest of any party that the situation in the Middle East worsens further," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing.

"We call on the parties concerned to exercise restraint," he said.

Geng said China would "play a responsible role in promoting a de-escalation of the situation as soon as possible".

China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is a key partner of Iran and a major buyer of the country's oil.

"China has always advocated that all parties concerned should properly resolve their conflicts and differences through dialogue, negotiation and other peaceful means," Geng said.

Iran's embassy in Beijing posted on Wednesday an announcement on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform that "the end of America's evil influence in West Asia has begun".

The post was "liked" more than 380,000 times on Wednesday, with multiple commenters cheering Iran.

"Support the people of Iran in attacking the world's number-one terrorist!" one user wrote.

Others called the people of Iran "brothers," and some said they wished to donate money to Tehran.

Iran, China and Russia held joint naval drills in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman in December and the Iranian foreign minister visited Beijing on New Year's Eve.

China and Russia are also parties to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, from which Trump withdrew in May last year.

The deal is now unravelling, with Tehran announcing on Sunday that it would rollback the limit on the number of centrifuges used in uranium enrichment, one of its commitments under the agreement.

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