Foreign Ministry denies US tip-off

Foreign Ministry denies US tip-off

No warning of strike on Iranian general

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said the United States had informed Thailand one day before its drone attack but the Foreign Ministry is backtracking on his statements. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said the United States had informed Thailand one day before its drone attack but the Foreign Ministry is backtracking on his statements. (Bangkok Post file photo)

The Foreign Ministry is backtracking on earlier statements by the foreign minister that the United States had informed Thailand one day before its drone attack which killed Iranian forces leader Qassem Soleimani, saying the report was "misinformed".

Ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks was commenting on remarks by Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai before reporters at Government House. He suggested the US had told Thailand about the attack on Thursday, a day before it happened, explaining that normally such an advisory would go through Asean, which Thailand chaired until recently.

However, subsequent checks found this was not the case. The US's closest allies with troops in Iraq, including Britain and Australia, say they themselves were not told in advance, and nor was the US Congress. Mr Don said Thailand only hoped the situation would not escalate, without any further provocation.

His remarks sparked public criticism, questioning why the minister disclosed such information publicly.

But Ms Busadee later denied its authenticity. "The FM was misinformed," she said, saying she had rechecked with the minister and found it was not true.

Following Mr Don's remark, Chulalongkorn University political scientist Chookiat Panaspornprasit, specialising in Middle East issues, said the remark could be construed both positively and negatively. Even if it was true, many questions remain including to what extent Thailand knew and what were the purposes of conveying such information.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University and chairman of the security advisory committee for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, declined to comment unless the foreign minister's information was clarified. However, he emphasised the importance of Asean countries coming together to discuss the issue. "Asean has a mechanism to work together. In such situations, Asean is designed to absorb the tension," he said.

"If Asean [members] agree to stay neutral, it will be easy," he said. "We should plan to handle the consequences [of the conflict] in the middle and long term," he said.

Veteran diplomats echoed his remarks, saying Asean should urge all parties to exercise restraint in the US-Iran crisis. Retired lawmaker and ambassador Kobsak Chutikul said the bloc should issue a joint statement urging all sides to de-escalate tensions. "In doing so, it will reiterate our neutral stance on the issue and protect our people in the Middle East from possible fallout. Our collective action will also pave the way for the evacuation of our people if need be," he told the Bangkok Post.

Mr Kobsak said any US-Iran conflict will harm the global outlook rather than particular regions. "It will exacerbate the economic slowdown and trigger volatility, putting all of us, including Asean, at a disadvantage," he said.

Meanwhile, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, a former permanent secretary of the Foreign Ministry, said the US-Iran fallout undermines international peace and stability. "It affects regional security in the Middle East and has wider repercussions because Iran's renewed commitment to nuclear power threatens world peace," he said.

However, Assoc Prof Chookiat said Asean might have less potential to convince the US to avoid further conflict than the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Gulf Cooperation Council. In Bangkok, a book of condolences has been opened for signing at the Iranian embassy following the death of Soleimani. The book was opened for mourners to sign on Tuesday and it will be available until Thursday between 9am and 4pm.

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