(CNSNews.com) – Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden told a campaign fundraiser on Monday night that NATO allies regard the actions of the United States and Iran in the current standoff as morally equivalent.
Meanwhile, hours earlier, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was asked several times during a press briefing in Brussels whether participants at a meeting of the 29 allies had criticized President Trump’s decision to order the killing of Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani – and gave no indication that they had.
Stoltenberg did say, repeatedly, that actions taken by the Iranian regime over the recent past were cause for grave concern.
Biden’s comments came at a fundraising event in Manhattan where, according to a pool report provided by the campaign, he criticized Trump over last Thursday’s airstrike in Baghdad.
“In the process of this whole episode going on right now, we have alienated our allies,” the pool report quoted Biden as saying. “It’s the first time I’m aware of that all of our NATO allies are making the moral equivalence between us and Iran. No one’s saying, ‘We’re with the United States of America.’”
Biden plans to deliver a statement in New York on Tuesday “on the escalating situation with Iran and the imperative need to restore respected, responsible, and dignified leadership on the world stage,” his campaign announced.
After a meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels, Stoltenberg told reporters that U.S. State Department and Pentagon officials had briefed the gathering on the regional situation and the strike against Soleimani.
“For years, all allies have expressed concern about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the wider Middle East region,” he said, underlining a shared determination that Iran should not acquire nuclear weapons; shared concern about its missile tests; and united condemnation of the regime’s “support for a variety of different terrorist groups.”
“At our meeting today, allies called for restraint and de-escalation. A new conflict would be in no-one’s interest,” he said, then concluded his prepared remarks by adding pointedly, “So Iran must refrain from further violence and provocations.”
The first question came from a NPR reporter: “Were any of the allies specifically mentioning that they would like restraint on the part of the United States as well?”
Stoltenberg spoke for two minutes about NATO support for the training mission in Iraq, before repeating that “all allies” have expressed concern about “Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, including Iran’s support for different terrorist groups” and its ballistic missile program.
He said nothing about NATO allies having called on the U.S. specifically for restraint.
A Norwegian broadcast journalist tried again: “Was there criticism of the U.S. by European allies – allies during the meeting, relating to the assassination of General Soleimani?”
“The meeting we had today was actually a meeting where we saw a very strong unity from all allies on the importance of standing together in the fight against international terrorism,” Stoltenberg replied.
“Again, NATO allies are very concerned about Iran’s activities in the region. And the NATO allies condemned – and have condemned many times – attacks on coalition forces by Iran and supported groups [in Iraq]. And that criticism, that position, was reiterated by many allies in the meeting today.”
Asked for his own view of the killing of Soleimani, Stoltenberg said that that was a U.S. decision, not one taken by the coalition or by NATO.
“But all allies are concerned about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, Iran’s support to different terrorist groups,” he repeated. “And of course, we are extremely concerned about the recent attacks we have seen against civilian energy infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, or against coalition bases in Iraq – bases which are important for our efforts to fight international terrorism in Iraq and in Syria.”
‘Soleimani left a trail of blood and violence’
Reactions from individual NATO allies to the killing of Soleimani have called on “all parties” to de-escalate, but have also largely focused on condemning the Iranian regime for provocative behavior.
“We have condemned the recent attacks on coalitions forces in Iraq and are gravely concerned by the negative role Iran has played in the region, including through the IRGC and the Al-Qods force under the command of General Soleimani,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint statement.
“There is now an urgent need for de-escalation. We call on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and responsibility. The current cycle of violence in Iraq must be stopped.”
“We have always recognized the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Qods force led by Qassem Soleimani,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said earlier. “Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in a newspaper interview Sunday was asked whether the killing of Soleimani had made the world safer or less so.
“Soleimani left a trail of blood and violence throughout the Middle East,” he said. “There was a reason why he was on the E.U.’s terror list. At the same time, the situation has become more unpredictable after his killing and the efforts to reduce tensions have become even more difficult.”
Maas said Germany’s goals were to “avoid an escalation in the form of armed conflict,” to preserve Iraq’s stability and integrity, and ensure that ISIS does not regain ground in the region.
Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne in a statement called on “all sides to exercise restraint,” before adding, “Canada has long been concerned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force, led by Qassem Soleimani, whose aggressive actions have had a destabilizing effect in the region and beyond.”