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U.N. leader reproaches world of 'turmoil'

Iran retaliated against the U.S., illustrating the U.N. chief's concerns that geopolitical tensions worldwide are at their highest level this century.

WASHINGTON (AN) — Iran retaliated against the United States by striking Iraq bases housing U.S. troops on Tuesday, illustrating the United Nations chief's concerns that geopolitical tensions around the world are at their highest level this century.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned a day earlier — in the first week of the 21st century's new decade —  the turbulence was escalating. He called on world leaders to ease the tensions.

“The New Year has begun with our world in turmoil. We are living in dangerous times," he said at U.N. headquarters in New York, following the targeted killing by a U.S. drone of Iran’s most influential general, Qasem Soleimani, in Iraq on Friday. “Even nuclear nonproliferation can no longer be taken for granted."

Iran vowed to avenge the killing of the elite Quds Force commander, and late Tuesday it launched missiles at U.S. military installations in Iraq. On Sunday, Iran signaled it would no longer be bound by most limits on its nuclear program under the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. The agreement was debated in the U.N. Security Council as recently as last month.

On Sunday, Iraqi lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution calling for U.S. troops to leave the country, in a clear response to the killing of the Iranian general on their soil. U.S. President Donald Trump threatened Iraq with sanctions if forced to withdraw American forces. On Twitter, he also threatened to destroy 52 Iranian sites of “cultural” significance if reprisal attacks against Americans occurred.

Guterres told a noon stakeout for U.N.-based correspondents that a “cauldron of tensions is leading more and more countries to take unpredicted decisions with unpredictable consequences and a profound risk of miscalculation. At the same time, we see trade and technological conflicts that fracture world markets, undermine growth and widen inequalities.”

Referring to this season's catastrophic bush fires in Australia, the U.N. chief said “our planet is on fire.  The climate crisis rages on.” Guterres has repeatedly called on world leaders to fulfill the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change that seeks to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, or no more than 1.5 degrees C. if possible.

“In many parts of the world, we see many people frustrated and angry,” he said. “We see increased social unrest and growing extremism, nationalism and radicalization, with a dangerous advance of terrorism, notably in Africa."

Restraint and dialogue

As Trump warned of possible U.S. attacks on selected Iranian targets and Iran waged its most provocative attack on America since the 1979 storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Guterres said it was clear “this situation cannot go on. I have been following the recent rise in global tensions with great concern. I am in constant contact with leading officials around the world."

The U.N. chief outlined a four-point message for what needs to happen next, not only in Washington and Tehran but in capitals across the world: “Stop escalation. Exercise maximum restraint. Re-start dialogue. Renew international cooperation.”

Political leaders must bear in mind, he cautioned, that ordinary civilians are the ones that suffer the most from conflicts and violence around the world. “Let us not forget the terrible human suffering caused by war,” he concluded. “As always, ordinary people pay the highest price.  It is our common duty to avoid it.”

His remarks to reporters on rising tensions followed a New Year's Day speech marked by deep concerns over North Korea's announcement it was ending a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear missile testing.