January 6, 2020 / 12:36 PM / 22 days ago

Turkey in touch with Iran, U.S. and aims to cool tensions

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey will work to de-escalate tensions between Iran and the United States and has been in contact with both parties after U.S. forces killed a top Iranian military commander last week, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to media next to Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu after the Global Refugee Forum at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 17, 2019, REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Since the U.S. killing of Qassem Soleimani, Tehran’s most prominent military commander, Cavusoglu said he has held phone calls with his Iranian and U.S. counterparts to discuss it.

Asked if Turkey would be open to mediating between Tehran and Washington, Cavusoglu said Turkey would support any steps to ease tensions in the region. “We will continue to work with other countries to solve this problem or de-escalate tensions in the coming days,” he said.

The issue of Iran-U.S. tensions would be on the agenda during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Turkey on Wednesday, he said, adding President Tayyip Erdogan had discussed the issue with Iranian, French, Iraqi and Qatari counterparts.

“Our common concern is Iraq turning into a conflict zone for other, third-party countries. This is a very serious risk for Iraq and our region,” Cavusoglu said. “Therefore, we will continue to do whatever we can to reduce the cycle of violence.”

The United States last week killed Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East, in an overnight attack in Baghdad authorized by President Donald Trump.

Iran has promised vengeance and on Friday condemned Trump as a “terrorist in a suit.”

Iraq’s parliament called on Sunday for U.S. and other foreign military forces to leave amid a growing backlash against the Soleimani’s killing, which has heightened fears of a wider Middle East conflict.

Cavusoglu said the parliament’s decision was not binding, adding that Erdogan had urged his Iraqi counterpart to act with reason.

“The killing of Soleimani didn’t just shift the balances in Iraq, it also did so in Iran. This may lead to radical groups gaining strength,” he said.

Cavusoglu said he have also discussed the issue with his Russian, British, Qatari and Pakistani counterparts, and with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Orhan Coskun; Editing by Jonathan Spicer

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