08:37 GMT +321 January 2020
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    The recent US strikes in Iraq, which left over two dozen militia fighters and a top Iranian general dead, have put Washington on the brink of an armed conflict with Tehran and led to threats of more strikes from Donald Trump, which even the UK refused to back.

    The dramatic rise of tensions in the Middle East has exposed deep rifts in the Western alliance, which emerged primarily due to an imbalance in NATO spending, Jeremy Hunt has said.

    The former foreign secretary, who returned to the backbenches after Boris Johnson beat him in the Tory leadership contest, wrote in a column for The Telegraph that “the Western alliance – largely forged by the UK and the US – is facing its biggest ever cracks.”

    “Last week’s killing of General Soleimani has exposed deep rifts in our approach to Iran going back to President Trump’s decision to tear up the Iran nuclear deal,” he added.

    General Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful battlefield commander, was killed on Friday in a US drone strike on Iraqi soil. His assassination, which the US justified as an act of self-defence, has shaken up the status quo in the region, with Iraq moving to expel US forces and Iran vowing to seek revenge.

    US President Trump in response casually threatened to attack more sites in Iran should it retaliate, including cultural ones – something widely seen as a war crime. Britain, Germany and France, which apparently hadn’t been made aware of the strike in advance, did not back that threat and urged restraint and de-escalation.

    Although Hunt did not explicitly justify the US actions, he claimed it is the Europeans who don’t do enough for their alliance with the United States. He cited Trump’s go-to argument about insufficient NATO spending in Europe to make the point that Europeans had been rightfully left out of discussions on game-changing decisions.

    Trump last month cut the US contribution to the NATO budget in his push for allies to pay more.

    “In the end, money matters,” Hunt wrote. “If we’re not prepared to cough up we should not be surprised if we are not consulted ahead of big decisions such as the taking out of General Soleimani. Nor should we be surprised if the Western alliance slowly starts to fracture as resentment builds up at European free-riding.”

    For the world not to be split by superpowers into spheres of influence, he suggested, Britain has to “behave like a real ally to the world’s most powerful democracy – pulling out weight in global affairs because of what we bring to table.”

    “That means making a proper contribution to global peace and security by backing our superb Armed Forces as a newly confident country outside the EU – and persuading our EU friends to do the same.”

    Tags:
    NATO, Jeremy Hunt, Qassem Soleimani, United Kingdom, United States
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