- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday shot back at critics questioning the legal basis for last week’s drone strike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, asserting that President Trump “made the right decision” by authorizing the strike to protect U.S. personnel in the Middle East.

Speaking to reporters at the State Department, the secretary of state also sharply dismissed claims by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that Soleimani was on a “diplomatic mission” in Iraq when a U.S. Hellfire missile killed the commander at Baghdad International Airport.

“[This] statement that Soleimani was traveling to Baghdad on a diplomatic mission, does anybody here believe that?” Mr. Pompeo asked, before adding with sarcasm: “Is there any history that would indicate that it was remotely possible? That this kind gentleman, this diplomat of great order Qassem Soleimani had traveled to Baghdad for the idea of conducting a peace mission?”

The comment drew chuckles from some reporters in attendance at the press conference at State Department headquarters Tuesday morning.

“I made you reporters laugh this morning, that’s fantastic,” Mr. Pompeo said.



He added that Mr. Zarif’s claim about Soleimani was “propaganda” and “wasn’t true.”

“We not only know the history, we know in that moment, that was not true,” Mr. Pompeo said. “Zarif is a propagandist of the first order.”

Separately, Mr. Pompeo said Mr. Trump had “an entirely legal” basis to order the strike that killed Soleimani because U.S. intelligence assessed the Iranian commander was actively engaged in planning future attacks on American personnel and interests.

In response to Democrats on Capitol Hill, who question whether there was any clear imminent threat that justified authorizing last Friday’s drone strike in Iraq, Mr. Pompeo pointed to the attack by Iran-backed proxies on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that occurred during the days leading up to the strike.

“If you’re looking for imminence, you need not look further than the days that led up to the strike that was taken against Soleimani,” the secretary of state said.

“In addition to that, [we] have what we can clearly see were continuing efforts on behalf of this terrorist to build out a network of campaign activities that were going to lead potentially to the death of many more Americans,” Mr. Pompeo said.

“It was the right decision. We got it right,” he added. “The Department of Defense did excellent work, and the president had an entirely legal, appropriate … basis, as well as a decision that fit perfectly within our strategy and how to counter the threat of malign activity from Iran more broadly.”

Trump critics say the order to kill Soleimani risks an all-out war with Iran despite the Tehran-backed attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad last week and a host of other Iranian military and proxy provocations in recent months, including attacks against Saudi oil infrastructure that occurred in September.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, has said the House could vote as early as Tuesday on a war powers resolution to limit Mr. Trump’s authority to take further military action against Iran.

In a letter to House Democrats, Mrs. Pelosi called the drone strike that killed Soleimani — commander of the Iranian military’s elite Quds Force, which oversees Tehran-backed militant proxy activity in several Middle East nations — “provocative and disproportionate.”

Other Democratic lawmakers argued that Mr. Trump may have exceeded his presidential authority by ordering the strike without first notifying key members of Congress.

Mr. Trump sent a classified official notification to Capitol Hill on Saturday, nearly two days after the strike.

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