- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2020

President Trump said Friday he ordered the attack that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani “to stop a war,” but warned Iran that the U.S. has other targets lined up and he won’t hesitate to launch more strikes to defend Americans.

“We took action last night to stop a war,” Mr. Trump said in brief televised remarks at his Florida resort. “We did not take action to start a war. We do not seek regime change.”

Referring to Soleimani as “the Number One terrorist anywhere in the world,” the president said the leader of Iran’s infamous Quds force had organized recent attacks in Iraq injuring U.S. service members and a siege of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

He said Soleimani “was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel.”

“But we caught him in the act, and terminated him,” Mr. Trump said. “Under my leadership, America’s policy is unambiguous to terrorists who harm or intend to harm any American: We will find you, we will eliminate you, we will always protect our diplomats, service-members, all Americans, and our allies.”

The president said Iran’s aggression in the Middle East “must end, and it must end now.”

“The United States has the best military, by far, anywhere in the world,” Mr. Trump said. “We have the best intelligence of the world. If Americans anywhere are threatened, we have all of those targets already fully identified, and I am ready and prepared to take whatever action is necessary. And that, in particular, refers to Iran.”

Congressional Democrats are complaining that Mr. Trump has risked war in the Middle East without consulting lawmakers.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York criticized the president for failing to notify the “Gang of Eight,” the top congressional leaders of both parties, in advance of the attack.

“The need for advance consultation and transparency with Congress was put in the Constitution for a reason,” Mr. Schumer said.

National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the administration has been briefing members of Congress over the past 24 hours and will provide a classified update to lawmakers when they return from recess next week.

Mr. O’Brien said Mr. Trump’s action was justified under the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force and consistent with his constitutional authority.

“We had the right to self-defense, they understand that,” Mr. O’Brien said of Iranian authorities. “If they choose to escalate, that would be a very poor decision.”

Mr. O’Brien tied Soleimani to the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers from explosions of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in Iraq. He also cited Soleimani’s support for Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad and a brutal crackdown on fellow Iranians during recent protests in the Islamic republic.

Mr. Trump said Soleimani should have been taken out long ago.
“A lot of lives would have been saved,” Mr. Trump said.

The president stressed the cultural history and heritage of Iran, saying he has no interest in a protracted conflict with their nation.

Mr. Trump highlighted previous efforts to eliminate the territorial caliphate operated by the Islamic State and kill its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“The world is a safer place without these monsters,” Mr. Trump said.

Iran has vowed swift revenge for Soleimani’s death, after three days of mourning for the general. Mr. Trump said U.S. leaders allowed Soleimani and Tehran to carry out terrorist attacks against U.S. personnel and American interests for too long.

“For years, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and its ruthless Quds force under Soleimani’s leadership, has targeted, injured and murdered hundreds of American civilians and servicemen,” the president said.

“The recent attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq, including rocket strikes that killed an American and injured four American servicemen very badly, as well as a violent assault on our embassy in Baghdad, were carried out at the direction of Soleimani.”

He said Soleimani “made the death of innocent people his sick passion, contributing to terrorist plots as far away as New Delhi and London.”

“Today we remember and honor the victims of Soleimani’s many atrocities and we take comfort in knowing that his reign of terror is over,” the president said.

Mr. Trump’s comments, delivered at his Mar-a-Lago resort where he is spending the holidays, came as the U.S. began to deploy nearly 3,000 more troops to the Middle East as reinforcements and urged U.S. citizens to leave Iraq “immediately.”

The early morning airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport killed Soleimani and nine others, according to Iran’s state TV. The U.S. State Department said the embassy in Baghdad, which was attacked by Iran-backed militiamen and their supporters earlier this week, is closed and all consular services have been suspended.

Around 5,200 American troops are based in Iraq to train Iraqi forces and help in the fight against Islamic State group militants.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the U.S. after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.”

Khamenei declared three days of public mourning and appointed Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s deputy, to replace him as head of the Quds force.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the killing a “heinous crime” and vowed his country would “take revenge.” Iran twice summoned the Swiss envoy, the first time delivering a letter to pass onto the United States.

Iranian Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dubbed the U.S. attack a “cowardly terrorist action” and said Iran has the right to respond “in any method and any time.” Iran also had discussed the attack with the secretary-general of the United Nations and was preparing a letter for the world body, Mr. Zarif added.

Mr. O’Brien, meanwhile, said Iran should sit down with the U.S. and forfeit its nuclear program, give up its proxy wars in the Middle East and “behave like a normal nation.”

“We hope they choose the right path,” Mr. O’Brien said.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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