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Rouhani warns foreign forces in Middle East ‘may be in danger’

Iranian president's remarks come after UK, France and Germany challenged Tehran over breaking limits of nuclear deal.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told foreign powers to withdraw their forces from the Middle East, warning they “may be in danger” if they remain in the region.

“Today, the American soldier is in danger, tomorrow the European soldier could be in danger,” Hassan Rouhani said in televised remarks on Wednesday, without elaborating.

Rouhani’s comments mark the first time he has threatened European countries amid heightened tensions with the United States.

The comments came a day after the United Kingdom, France and Germany challenged Tehran over breaking limits of a major nuclear deal signed in 2015 between Iran and six world powers.

The European nations announced on Tuesday that they triggered the dispute mechanism provided for in the landmark agreement in order to force Tehran to honour its commitments under the accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), from which US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018.

Friction in the region escalated in recent months after a series of attacks in the Gulf region that Washington blamed on Iran and its proxies, over Iranian denials.

Fears of an all-out war emerged earlier in January after a US air strike killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, prompting retaliatory Iranian missile strikes against US targets in Iraq.

European forces have been deployed alongside American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. France also maintains a naval base in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, while Britain has opened a base on the island nation of Bahrain.

European Commission spokesman Peter Stano told reporters that officials were aware of the threats, but the European Union had no plans to leave Iraq.

Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini told lawmakers his government has plans to increase Rome’s troop levels in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Gulf through which 20 percent of all oil passes.

German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, meanwhile, made an unannounced visit on Wednesday to the Azraq base in Jordan, where German troops serving in the fight against the ISIL (ISIS) armed group are based. Germany wants to resume training Iraqi forces.

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