UK urges restraint on all sides as Downing Street distances itself from Donald Trump's threat to Iranian cultural sites

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner

The UK has called for an urgent deescalation as tensions continued to mount in the Middle East after a top Iranian general was assassinated by a US drone on Friday.

Boris Johnson joined the head of NATO, and other world leaders, by urging restraint - and calling on both sides to get around the table to resolve the crisis following the targeted killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani.

The Prime Minister also sought to distance the UK from Donald Trump's threat to illegally target "cultural sites" in Iran.

Mr Johnson said he was equally concerned about Iraq's intention to expel British troops from Iraq after Baghdad voted through a motion to force allied military from the country.

Following an emergency meeting with senior ministers in Downing Street on Monday, Dominic Raab called on all sides to diffuse the crisis as the UK attempts to walk a difficult diplomatic tightrope, trying to placate allies in the United States and the Middle East.

Mr Raab - who spoke to his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif on Monday - said the UK was stressing the importance of "de-escalating the tensions and finding a diplomatic way through this crisis" in talks with world leaders and foreign ministers.

But he echoed Mr Johnson's view that the UK would not "lament" Gen Soleimani's death.

"General Soleimani was a regional threat, he had a track record, that was his job description," Mr Raab said.

"I don't think we will - as the Prime Minister said - lament his passing."

It came after Mr Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement calling on all sides to work towards an urgent easing of tensions in the region.

Mr Raab said the government's first priority was to ensure the safety of UK nationals, citizens, shipping and military personal.

The government has updated its travel advice to Iran and the 400 Irish Guards based in Iraq to train troops - have been ordered to concentrate on their own protection.

There are also British special forces and their support working alongside US special forces in northern Iraq and Syria.

HMS Montrose and HMS Defender will be on standby to escort British flagships through the Straits of Hormuz where a tanker was seized by Iran last July.

Despite the military assets, a former army chief told ITV News he believes civilians may be more of a target.

"Both people working aboard or people on holiday, up and down the Gulf, Abu Dhabi , Dubai - these are popular tourist resorts as indeed are other places along the Mediterranean.

"Anything within reach that could force retaliation must pose a concern to our people," Lord Dannatt, former chief of staff said.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (left) arrives in Downing Street London on Monday. Credit: PA

Downing Street insisted Britain's security partnership with the US remained "very close" despite Mr Trump not informing the UK of its plans to assassinate the general - adding that the UK is in "regular dialogue at every level".

Mr Johnson spoke to the Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi on Monday morning, and there will be a meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday.

A Number 10 spokesperson said the two leaders "discussed the need to de-escalate tensions in the region following the death of Qassem Soleimani and agreed to work together to find a diplomatic way forward".

"The Prime Minister underlined the UK's unwavering commitment to Iraq's stability and sovereignty and emphasised the importance of the continued fight against the shared threat from Daesh," they added.

Ministers are urging the Iraqi government to allow foreign troops to remain in the country to fight against the threat posed by so-called Islamic State, despite its parliament calling for their expulsion.