US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Qassem Soleimani was killed as part of a broader strategy of deterring challenges by US foes applying to China and Russia as well, further diluting the assertion the top Iranian general was hit because he was plotting attacks on US targets.
In a speech at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, Pompeo made no mention of the threat of imminent attacks planned by Soleimani. In response to a question he repeated an earlier assertion that pre-empting plots was the reason for the January 3 drone strike on Iran’s second most powerful official.
His speech, “The Restoration of Deterrence: The Iranian Example,” focused on an administration strategy to establish “real deterrence” against Iran following earlier Republican and Democratic policies encouraging Tehran’s “malign activity.”
Democratic and some Republican lawmakers challenged the administration over the self-defence rationale supported by undisclosed intelligence on imminent attacks. President Donald Trump said potential targets included four US embassies.
On Sunday, Defence Secretary Mark Esper said he had seen no intelligence warning of imminent attacks on embassies.
Trump on Monday added fuel to the controversy saying “it really doesn’t matter” whether Soleimani posed an imminent threat.
Pompeo said there was “a bigger strategy” behind the killing of Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, Iran’s elite foreign espionage and paramilitary force.
“President Trump and those in his national security team are re-establishing deterrence – real deterrence ‒ against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.
“Your adversary must understand not only do you have the capacity to impose cost but that you’re willing to do so,” Pompeo said, adding the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal from which Trump withdrew in 2018 emboldened Tehran.
“America now enjoys the greatest position of strength regarding Iran we’ve ever been in,” he said, pointing to damage done to the Iranian economy by US sanctions Trump re-imposed following withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
“The importance of deterrence isn’t confined to Iran,” Pompeo said. “In all cases, we must deter foes to defend freedom. That’s the whole point of President Trump’s work to make our military the strongest it’s ever been.”
He cited resumption of lethal military aid to Ukraine for defence against Russia-backed separatists, Trump’s withdrawal from an arms control accord with Moscow and tests of a new US intermediate range cruise missile.
Pompeo also pointed to increased US naval exercises in the South China Sea in response to China’s militarisation of disputed islands and Trump’s imposition of tariffs on Chinese imports as aspects of the administration’s deterrence strategy.
“We’re restoring credibility to deterrence,” he said.