Trump attack on Iran general came amid 'imminent threats to American lives', Pompeo says

Secretary of State says airstrike that killed Soleimani would make Americans in the region safer – even as the US embassy in Baghdad urges citizens to leave

Clark Mindock
New York
Friday 03 January 2020 15:18 GMT
Mike Pompeo says Soleimani strike was in response to 'imminent threat'

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the airstrike that killed a top Iranian general in Iraq was approved by Donald Trump due to “imminent threats to American lives”.

Mr Pompeo said hours after the attack that he had spoken with the governments of several world powers about the attack on Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, and described the action in one message as “defensive”.

He claimed that the US, shortly after the attack that killed one of the most powerful military officials in the region, was committed to “de-escalation”.

“We want the American people to know that there was an imminent attack taking place,” Mr Pompeo said during an appearance on CNN, adding to a series of comments he had made through his Twitter account on Friday morning.

US government officials repeatedly claimed that there was evidence that such an attack was going to take place. But, little evidence or intelligence was immediately made available publicly.

The killing of Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite military force, at the Baghdad airport has raised concerns around the globe that his death could lead to destabilisation in the region, and appears to have increased the possibility of an outright military confrontation between the United States and Iran.

But, even as the US embassy in Baghdad was urging all American citizens to leave the region immediately, Mr Pompeo said during an interview with CNN that the action against Soleimani was one that made Americans and the region were much more safe.

“The world’s a much safer place today and I can assure you that Americans in the region are much safer today after the demise of Qasem Soleimani,” he said.

Shortly after the death, tens of thousands of anti-America protesters were seen in the streets of Iran. On Iranian state television, Soleimani’s killing was described as “the biggest miscalculation by the US” since the Second World War. “The people of the region will no longer allow Americans to stay,” the network said.

"Harsh vengeance awaits the criminals that got his and other martyrs' blood on their evil hands in last night's incident," said Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader.

The killing has been met with delicate statements from many world leaders, with UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab saying that Britain “recognised the aggressive threat” posed by Soleimani, but said “further conflict is in none of our interests”. Likewise, Germany expressed concern alongside a qualified understanding of the action, with a spokesperson saying it was “a reaction to a whole series of military provocations for which Iran bears responsibility”, according to the Associated Press.

The attack was met with concern from China, Russia and France — a group that represents the majority of the permanent members of the UN security council — who said the actions made the world more perilous.

“We are waking up in a more dangerous world. Military escalation is always dangerous,” Amelie de Montchalin, France’s deputy minister for foreign affairs, told RTL radio. “When such actions, such operations, take place, we see that escalation is under way.”

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