Iran and Russia have reacted strongly to a statement by the top U.S. diplomat dealing with Iran, that if the new Qods Force commander continues in the path of his predecessor, Qassem Soleimani by killing Americans, he will face the same fate.
The reactions of both Iran and Russia were quick, signalling that tensions simmer under the cover of a pause in escalation which has been apparent since Iran launched ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops.
While the condemnation of Hook's statement by the Islamic republic came as no surprise, Russian foreign ministry's reaction was much needed support for Iran, which finds itself in diplomatic and economic isolation.
“I state once again that such statements are unacceptable for us. Such remarks have been made beyond rights and law, and representatives of world states are not entitled to utter them,” Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said at a news briefing in the capital Moscow on Thursday.
Earlier in the day her Iranian counterpart Abbas Mousavi had said that the latest remarks by the U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook were "exposing United States' targeted and state terrorism". Mousavi said the United States, after Israel, is the second "regime to officially announce that it has employed the resources of its government and armed forces for terrorist acts and that it will continue them in the future”.
Mousavi also called the threat "a clear sign of "weakness, desperation, and confusion" among the officials of the American regime".
The targeted killing of Soleimani near Baghdad Airport on January 3 hugely escalated tensions in the region which culminated in an Iranian attack on Ain al-Assad and another base in northern Iraq which hosted American and other Coalition troops with ballistic missiles. The attack reportedly had no human casualty. However, the United States has admitted that some of its soldiers were injured in the attack.
Soleimani had special relations with Russian leaders and according to Western intelligence sources had even visited Moscow in July 2015 and met with the Russian President and Defense Minister despite a travel ban and UN Security Council resolutions barring him from leaving Iran.
His successor, General Esmail Qaani has vowed to follow his path and at least, for the time being, has shown no deviation from the path of his slain predecessor.
On Soleimani's initiative, Iran and Russia formed an alliance in support of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad which saved him from defeat at the hands of his opponents in the civil war. Reportedly, Soleimani convinced Vladimir Putin that if Russia would provide air support, Iran and its proxies could defeat the rebels on the ground.
The U.S. Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, made the threat against the new Qods commander in an interview with London-based Asharq Al-Awsat on the sidelines of Davos Conference. In this interview Hook maintained that Soleimani's killing, who he called "the world's most dangerous terrorist", is going to make the Middle East a safer place because it will create a "void that the regime will not be able to fill".
Following Hooks statement, The U.S. once again showed its determination to follow the "maximum pressure" policy against Iran by sanctioning a string of companies it accused of helping sell Iranian oil and petrochemicals, repatriating the proceeds for use by the Qods Force.
Soleimani had first been designated a "terrorist" and sanctioned by the U.S in 2005 and then in 2011 by the U.S. treasury department for an alleged failed plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States in Washington D.C.
The New Commander of the Qods Force, General Qaani, has personally not shown any reaction to the threat made against him.