Trump defends decision to kill Soleimani

Esper saw no hard evidence of embassies threat claim

When Trump was asked on Monday what the intelligence showed with regard to the threats Iran posed to four embassies, he said, "I think it's been totally consistent".

Since the January 3 strike that killed Soleimani, critics have questioned the Trump administration's assertion that Soleimani was planning an imminent attack against the US.

Soleimani was the head of the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, which handles clandestine operations outside Iran, working closely with militias in the region blamed for attacks on US interests.

"I think when you're dealing with a situation where you already have attacks underway, you know there is a campaign that involves repeated attacks on American targets, I don't think there's a requirement frankly for, you know, knowing the exact time and place of the next attack".

Pressed on whether there was a piece of intelligence that showed Martyr Suleimani wanted to attack USA embassies, Mr. Esper said: "I didn't see one with regard to four embassies". Trump's critics have argued that killing Suleimani was not worth the consequences if it was not necessary to prevent the imminent killing of Americans.

"America now enjoys the greatest position of strength regarding Iran we've ever been in", he said, pointing to the damage done to the Iranian economy by USA sanctions that Trump re-imposed following his withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

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This revelation could prove to be problematic for the White House.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the assassination of Qassem Soleimani was part of a "bigger strategy" to deter Iran and other US rivals, including Russian Federation and China, in what marked a significant departure from Washington's original account.

Later on Friday, during an interview with Fox News, Trump got more specific than any other official had in public, saying he believed four embassies would have been targeted. As the head of the elite Quds Force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Soleimani had for years spread Iran's influence across the wider Middle East, strengthening Shia militias from Lebanon to Iraq. With it now known that Trump gave his approval of the attack in June, this rationale continues to crumble. Several senators also said the administration had not mentioned any imminent threat to four embassies - let alone embassies in general - during a classified briefing last week.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said the strike on Soleimani was aimed at stopping a "continuing upward spiral" of violence in the region.

"The general in charge of these efforts, Soleimani, was clearly a legitimate military target".

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