Blinken: US not involved in any offensive op, seeks de-escalation

Global community urges Israel, Iran to keep a lid on tensions after reported strike

Italian leader says US warned ‘at last minute,’ as Washington clarifies it had nothing to do with alleged retaliation; indications tit-for-tat over do little to mute calls for restraint

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives a press conference on the last day of the G7 foreign ministers meeting on the Italian island of Capri on April 19, 2024. (Tiziana Fabi/AFP)
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives a press conference on the last day of the G7 foreign ministers meeting on the Italian island of Capri on April 19, 2024. (Tiziana Fabi/AFP)

The United States sought to distance itself from a reported Israeli retaliation against an air base in central Iran Friday, denying involvement and apparently telling partners that it was only warned about the attack at the last moment.

With Iran downplaying the “limited” drone strike, fears that Israel’s reprisal would lead to escalating fighting began to fade, even as the international community continued to make impassioned pleas for restraint and calm.

The US was “not involved in any offensive operation” on Iranian soil, Washington’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a press conference at the end of a Group of Seven summit of foreign ministers on the Italian island of Capri.

Blinken added that the US was committed to Israel’s security. Asked whether Washington was alerted ahead of time of the reported Israeli attack, Blinken answered: “I’m not going to speak to these reported events… All I can say is for our part, and for all the members of the G7, our focus is on de-escalation.”

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, whose country holds the international forum’s rotating presidency, had earlier said that the US was alerted of the attack shortly before it happened.

Tajani said the US informed the G7 ministers that it had been “informed at the last minute” by Israel about the drones.

“But there was no sharing of the attack by the US. It was a mere information,” he added.

“We invite everyone to be cautious to avoid an escalation,” Tajani also told Italy’s state-run RAI news agency.

A statement issued by G7 ministers at the end of the three-day summit Friday “urge[d] all parties to work to prevent further escalation. The G7 will continue to work to this end.”

Israel has remained silent on the reported attack on an airbase near Isfahan early Friday, and Iran has said explosions reported overnight were from anti-aircraft fire successfully fending off an assault by three small drones.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani speaks to reporters during the final press conference at the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting on Capri Island, Italy, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Nuclear facilities in Isfahan were “completely secure” following the attack, according to a report from Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which urged “extreme restraint from everybody,” later confirmed that no nuclear facility was hurt, adding they “should never be a target in military conflicts.”

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi had said Monday that Iran had closed its nuclear installations for security reasons.

Iran has not publicly blamed Israel for the attack, in an ostensible effort to downplay the significance of the attack.

The decades-long shadow war between Israel and Iran burst into the open over the weekend when Iran retaliated for an alleged Israeli airstrike on April 1 that killed seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members, including two generals, near the Iranian embassy in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Iran’s drones and missiles were almost entirely intercepted by Israel and other countries, though a 7-year-old Bedouin girl was severely injured in the attack.

Emergency and security personnel search the rubble at the site of strikes that hit a building annexed to the Iranian embassy in Syria’s capital Damascus, on April 1, 2024. (Louai Beshara/AFP)

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose country’s air force helped Israel fend off Iran’s weekend assault, said Friday he would not speculate on reports Israel had carried out an attack on Iranian soil.

“It’s a developing situation, it wouldn’t be right for me to speculate until the facts become clearer and we’re working to confirm the details together with allies,” Sunak said after a speech in central London.

“Significant escalation is not in anyone’s interest. What we want to see is calm heads prevail across the region,” he added.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a press conference at the Centre for Social Justice in central London, April 19, 2024. (Yui Mok/Pool/AFP)

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday that “it is high time to stop the dangerous cycle of retaliation in the Middle East,” his spokesperson said in a statement.

“The Secretary-General condemns any act of retaliation and appeals to the international community to work together to prevent any further development that could lead to devastating consequences for the entire region and beyond,” Stephane Dujarric said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called on Iran, Israel and their allies to refrain from escalation in the Middle East.

“It is absolutely necessary that the region remains stable and that all sides restrain from further action,” von der Leyen said, speaking alongside Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo near the Finnish-Russian border.

“De-escalation remains the order of the day in the near future. And we will also talk about this with all our friends and allies, and work together with them in this direction,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters on Friday.

File: President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, next to Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R), looks on prior to the European Council summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on March 21, 2024. (Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP)

Middle Eastern governments were similarly wary of heightened tensions in the region.

“Regional escalation is a danger that must be prevented. We condemn all actions that lead to a regional war,” wrote Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on X, adding: “The Israeli-Iranian escalation must stop, and efforts must remain and focus on ending the brutal Israeli aggression on Gaza.”

Egypt’s foreign ministry said it was “deeply concerned” about an escalation of hostilities between Israel and Iran. The Emirati foreign ministry similarly called on all sides to show “utmost restraint.”

Oman, which has long mediated between Tehran and the West, condemned what it referred to as the “Israeli attack” on Iran on Friday.

Oman “condemns the Israeli attack this morning on Isfahan… it also condemns and denounces Israel’s repeated military attacks in the region,” said a foreign ministry statement released on X, formerly Twitter.

A handout image grab made available by the Iranian state TV, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), shows what the TV said was a live picture of the city of Isfahan early on April 19, 2024, following reports of explosions heard in the province in central Iran. (IRIB/AFP)

Superpowers aligned with Iran joined in the international de-escalation chorus.

“We continue to favor restraint on the sides and to refrain from any action that could provoke further escalation in such a sensitive region,” Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The Kremlin has made clear to Israel that Iran “does not want escalation,” Moscow’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said later in an interview with Russian radio stations.

“There have been telephone contacts between the leadership of Russia and Iran, our representatives and the Israelis. We made it very clear in these conversations, we told the Israelis that Iran does not want escalation,” said Lavrov.

The Russian government, which has grown harshly critical of Israel during the war in Gaza, relies on Iranian-made drones in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Illustrative: This undated photograph released by the Ukrainian military’s Strategic Communications Directorate shows the wreckage of what Kyiv has described as an Iranian Shahed drone downed near Kupiansk, Ukraine. (Ukrainian military’s Strategic Communications Directorate via AP, File)

China, Iran’s biggest trade partner, said Friday that it will “continue to play a constructive role to de-escalate” tensions in the Middle East after Iranian media reported explosions heard near the city of Isfahan and US media quoted officials saying Israel had carried out retaliatory strikes on its arch-rival.

“China opposes any actions that further escalate tensions and will continue to play a constructive role to de-escalate the situation,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said.

After the alleged Israeli attack on Iran, China’s embassy in the Islamic Republic implored Chinese citizens in Iran to remain alert.

“[We] remind Chinese citizens and companies in Iran to take precautions over security risks, pay close attention to the development of the situation and ensure personal safety,” the embassy said in a statement on social media.

China is a close partner of Iran and a top buyer of its sanctioned oil. The US has repeatedly made public appeals for China to use its influence over Tehran to manage tensions in the region, which are currently turbocharged over the Israel-Hamas conflict, triggered by Hamas’s shock October 7 assault on southern Israel in which 1,200 people were killed, mainly civilians, and over 250 were abducted.

Meanwhile, the Hamas terror group said Israel’s “aggression” on Iran is an escalation against the region.

Hamas is part of the Iran-led “Axis of Resistance,” along with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and groups in Syria and Iraq.

Global markets dampened after news broke of Israel’s purported attack in Iran, with investors flocking to safe assets amid fears the Israel-Iran tensions could wreak havoc on the global economy.

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