Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday called for greater diplomacy to avoid war with Iran less than a week after a U.S. airstrike killed senior Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.
The former vice president criticized President Donald Trump for inflaming tensions with Iran, which said Sunday it no longer plans to abide by a 2015 nuclear deal after the airstrike Thursday at Baghdad's international airport in Iraq. The deal blocked Iran from possessing enough material to create an atomic weapon.
Biden accused Trump of having no strategy and "no endgame" in his dealings with Iran, which he said has left the United States with limited options.
"I have no illusions about Iran. The regime has long sponsored terrorism and threatened our interests. They've ruthlessly killed hundreds of protesters, and they should be held accountable for their actions," Biden said.
"But there is a smart way to counter them -- and a self-defeating way. Trump's approach is demonstrably the latter."
Trump further escalated tensions Sunday when he voted to hit 52 targets in Iran "very hard" if Tehran retaliates for the death of Soleimani, including some targets "at a very high level" that are "important to Iran and the Iranian culture."
Trump's threats toward non-military sites in Iran drew swift and widespread criticism, and Pentagon officials later said no cultural sites will be targeted.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Monday the United States has no intention of targeting the sites Trump mentioned -- as doing so would amount to a war crime.
Biden called for diplomacy, not more violence.
"No one wants war," Biden said during a foreign policy speech in New York City.
"We need to restore the balance of powers between the branches of government. We need checks and balances that actually serve to check and balance the worst impulses of our leaders -- in any branch," he added. "We need to use our system to bring us together as a nation -- not abuse it to rip us apart.
Fellow candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also is seeking checks and balances on the conflict with Iran. On Friday, he and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., introduced legislation to block Pentagon funding for military action against Iran without congressional approval.
Sanders said that in addition to preventing war with Iran, the United States must end its presence in the Middle East, bring home troops from Afghanistan and end its involvement in Yemen's civil war.
"As the former chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, I have seen up close the pain, death and despair caused by war," he tweeted. "And I know that it is rarely the children of the billionaire class who face the agony of reckless foreign policy."
Much of the Democratic field's discussion of the killing of Soleimani has been about whether the targeted strike is considered an assassination. Sanders is the only candidate to have described it as such -- during a speech in Anamosa, Iowa, on Friday, calling it a "dangerous escalation."
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg disagreed with Sanders' descriptor during a speech the same day, calling it "inappropriate."
"If he was talking about killing the general ... this is a guy who had an awful amount of American blood on his hands. I think that's an outrageous thing to say.
"Nobody that I know of would think that we did something wrong in getting the general."
Like Bloomberg, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg told CNN he's "not interested in the terminology" despite characterizing Soleimani's slaying as an "assassination" on Saturday. He told network on Sunday that he's more interested in the consequences of the airstrike.
"Did the president have legal authority to do this? Why wasn't Congress consulted? It seems like more people at Mar-a-Lago heard about this than people in the United States Congress who are a coequal branch of government with a responsibility to consult," he said.
"Which of our allies were consulted? The real world effects of this are going to go far beyond the things that we are debating today and we need answers quickly."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also questioned what the "right response" was to dealing with Soleimani during an appearance Tuesday on ABC's The View.
"The response that Donald Trump has picked is the most incendiary and has moved us right to the edge of war, and that is not in our long-term interests," she said.