The latest nuclear power to condemn the assassination of an Iranian top nuclear scientist, Pakistan considers this act a destabilizing event in a region already plagued by widespread unrest.
A former Revolutionary Guard officer who headed the Organization for Defense Innovation and Research, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was shot dead east of the Iranian capital last Friday in an as yet unclaimed assassination attempt that has raised suspicions of Israeli involvement. While Iran has always denied possessing or seeking to possess an atomic bomb, several nations with such capabilities, such as Pakistan, have spoken out against the assassination.
“Pakistan condemns the assassination of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Tehran,” Pakistan’s State Department said Thursday in a statement sent to Washington on Newsday. “We express our sincere condolences to the family members of Mr. Fakhrizadeh and the Iranian people.
The attack comes about a decade after a series of similar murders of other leading Iranian nuclear scientists and more recently in the wake of the ongoing tensions between Iran and its main opponents Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Islamabad feared that such violence could only further upset the Middle East.
“Such acts not only violate all norms of interstate relations and international law, but also threaten the peace and stability of an already fragile region,” said the Pakistani Foreign Ministry. “Pakistan urges all sides to exercise the greatest possible restraint and avoid a further escalation of tensions in the region”.
Pakistan’s neighbors Iran and Pakistani officials have previously expressed to Washington Newsday the importance they attach to stability along their country’s border with the Islamic Republic.
Pakistan, one of nine countries believed to belong to the Nuclear Weapons Club, conducted its first public nuclear test in 1998, largely in response to a test conducted by rival India just two weeks earlier. According to the Federation of American Scientists, Pakistan is now believed to have about 160 nuclear weapons and India 150.
While India-which has developed ever-closer relations with Israel and its main ally, the United States-has been quiet, other world powers have come forward with nuclear weapons stockpiles.
Days after Fakhrizadeh’s death, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on Monday that her country was appalled by the act and called on those responsible to be exposed.
“China is shocked by the murder of the Iranian scientist and condemns this violent crime,” Hua said. “We hope that the incident will be thoroughly investigated.”
Like Islamabad, Beijing was also concerned about the potential impact in an already resistant region.
“China rejects any action that increases regional tensions and undermines regional peace and stability,” Hua said. “Since the current situation in the region is very complex and delicate, all parties should work together to reduce regional tensions and maintain peace and stability in the region”.
It is estimated that China possesses up to about 320 nuclear weapons after testing its first nuclear weapon in 1961, only years after an ideological split with the Soviet Union led to tensions between the two Communist powers.
Today, however, Beijing and Moscow are perhaps more in line than ever. Both see the U.S. as a destabilizing force in the Middle East and, despite Washington’s strict sanctions, support Iran economically and, following the recent expiry of a UN arms embargo, perhaps soon militarily as well.
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Russia, which currently has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world with some 6,370 warheads, had particularly harsh words for those behind the assassination of Fakhrizadeh.
“We strongly condemn the assassination of the researcher Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Iran on November 27,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday. “We are seriously concerned about the provocative nature of this act of terrorism, which is clearly aimed at destabilizing the situation and escalating the potential for conflict in the region. Whoever is behind the murder, whoever has tried to use it for political gain, must be held accountable”.
The murder of Fakhrizadeh took place in the presumably last weeks of President Donald Trump’s term of office. Despite the official challenge to the victory of President-elect Joe Biden, Trump officially initiated the transition process, which is scheduled to be completed on January 20. During his term of office, Trump has considerably heightened tensions with Iran, leaving behind a 2015 agreement that granted the Islamic Republic facilitated sanctions in return for curbing its nuclear activities.
The agreement was signed by Iran together with the United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom, all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and nuclear states of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), as well as Germany.
Despite the unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. in 2018, the rest of the parties continue to stand behind the agreement, even though Europe has fought to maintain trade relations in the face of the Trump administration’s harsh sanctions and Iran has begun to enrich uranium at higher levels in response.
After the U.S. openly claimed the killing of Major General Qassem Soleimani, Major General Qassem Soleimani of the Revolutionary Guard Quds Force earlier this year, the U.S. remained silent on Fakhrizadeh’s passing, and the State Department declined Washington Newsday’s request to comment on the matter.
The European Union, which had already broken with the US in supporting the nuclear deal with Iran, quickly denounced Fakhrizadeh’s killing, which the EU considered illegal.
“This is a criminal act and contradicts the principle of respect for human rights for which the EU stands,” the EU’s External Action Service said in a statement on Saturday, just one day after the act.
The statement expressed condolences on behalf of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell, who also wished recovery to those injured in an attack that exacerbated existing frictions throughout the Middle East.
“In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever for all parties to remain calm and exercise maximum restraint in order to avoid an escalation that cannot be in anyone’s interest,” the statement said.
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The three European signatories of the nuclear agreement also expressed their concerns separately.
The French Foreign Ministry said on Monday that it “noted with concern” that Fakhrizadeh had been killed. “Against the background of regional tensions, we are closely monitoring the impact on Iran and the region,” the ministry said.
Paris advised calm on all sides.
“We call for restraint in order to keep the channels of dialogue and negotiation open,” said the French Foreign Ministry. “In this context, we reiterate our calls for efforts to avoid an escalation of tension.
Germany also urged to keep a cool head as the temperature rose due to the heated tensions in the Middle East.
“We call on all parties to avoid anything that could lead to a renewed escalation of the situation,” which “we absolutely do not need at the moment,” said a spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry in a statement that appeared in Agence France-Presse.
The spokesman pointed out that the situation was particularly complicated by an imminent change of power in Washington, where Biden has vowed to return to the nuclear deal when he takes office next month.
“Weeks before a new administration takes office in the United States, the existing dialogue with Iran must be maintained in order to resolve the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program through negotiations,” the spokesman said.
For his part, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab expressed a similar sentiment in anticipation of a clearer understanding of the situation.
“We are concerned about the situation in Iran and in the wider region. We would like to see a de-escalation of tension,” Raab told Sky News on Sunday.
According to his observations so far, however, he saw the killing of a scientist as a potentially criminal element, even if he had a military background.
“We are still waiting to hear all the facts about what is happening in Iran, but I would say that we are sticking to the rule of international humanitarian law, which clearly prohibits targeting civilians,” Raab said.
Two thirds of the E3 possess nuclear weapons, with the French arsenal estimated at 290 and the British at around 230. As members of the NATO military alliance, they also operate, together with Germany, a collective defense pact, largely led by the United States.
An eighth nuclear power, presumably the youngest, has not yet spoken out. North Korea has traditionally been selective in its foreign policy statements, although in the case of Fakhrizadeh the matter may be somewhat personal.
According to reports, Fakhrizadeh himself traveled to North Korea to participate in the third nuclear test of the elusive militarized state in 2013. The extent to which Pyongyang and Tehran’s weapons programs are linked remains a bone of contention among experts and officials, but both governments and their top leaders are linked in their skepticism and sometimes in their open opposition to the West and its global interventions.
The ninth country believed to possess nuclear weapons has never openly admitted that it possesses such weapons, but strongly opposes the efforts of other regional states to acquire them.
Israel considers its qualitative military advantage over other powers in the Middle East as an existential advantage due to the ongoing hostilities stemming from its original founding in 1948 and the war with Arab states that supported Palestinians claiming the same territory. Today, five Arab states have normalized their relations with Israel, three – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan – since August, and Iran remains a top priority.
The Israeli defense forces have recently told Washington Newsday that their personnel “as always remains vigilant, prepared for various Iranian attacks and ready to defend Israeli civilians. The Israeli military declined to comment further on the issue of Fakhrizadeh’s killing.
Alireza Miryousefi, the spokesperson for the Iranian mission to the United Nations, told Washington Newsday that his country, too, was “perfectly capable of defending its people and territory” and remained vigilant, as ever, against possible threats.
As for revenge, he warned Iran not to act at its own pace and in its own place.
“Revenge for the murder of Dr. Fakhrizadeh will be carried out in due course on the perpetrators of the terrorist attack,” said Miryousefi, “at a time and place of our choosing.