January 4, 2020 / 4:26 PM / 23 days ago

France's Macron discusses Middle East crisis with Iraqi, UAE leaders

FILE PHOTO: French president Emmanuel Macron and Iraqi President Barham Salih shake hands after a news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, February 25, 2019. Christophe Ena/Pool via REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron agreed with his Iraqi counterpart on Saturday to make efforts to dampen tensions in the Middle East after Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. air strike.

“The two presidents agreed to remain in close contact to avoid any further escalation in tensions and in order to act to ensure stability in Iraq and the broader region,” Macron’s office said of his telephone discussion with Iraqi President Barham Salih.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of people marched in Baghdad to mourn Iran’s military chief Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, after the two were killed in a U.S. air strike which has raised the spectre of wider conflict in the Middle East.

Macron also discussed Middle East developments with the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. The two leaders underlined the importance of fighting Islamic State and dealing with the political crisis in Libya, Macron’s office said.

Earlier on Saturday, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he had discussed the situation in the Middle East with his German foreign minister Heiko Maas and senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi.

“We all noted in particular our agreement in the importance of preserving the stability and sovereignty of Iraq, and the whole of the region in general, as well as the need for Iran to avoid any new violation of the Vienna Agreement,” Le Drian said.

Under the 2015 Vienna agreement, most international sanctions against Tehran were lifted in 2016, in exchange for limitations on Iran’s nuclear work. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration however pulled out of the deal.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Gareth Jones and James Drummond

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