U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned on Tuesday that Iran could face another targeted strike if it pursues what he calls “bad choices.”
He suggested the Trump administration views the targeted killing last week of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani as part of what it calls the “maximum pressure” campaign to get Iran to stop pursuing the development of nuclear weapons and the peddling of greater influence in the Middle East.
In a press conference with reporters, Pompeo was asked whether the targeted killing of Soleimani by drone strike while he was en route from the airport in Baghdad, Iraq, was part of the administration’s pressure campaign to get Iran to back down.
He responded by saying the maximum pressure campaign has three parts — diplomatic, economic and militaristic — and that the strike was carried out as part of the latter part of the strategy.
“You saw not just over this past week but over the past year, you’ve seen our security component to this,” he said. “You saw more tactically just these last few days the president’s response when the Iranians made a bad decision to kill an American. We hope they won’t make another bad decision just like that one.”
The reporter asked Pompeo to clarify that he was indeed saying the American administration views targeted killings as part of its plan to bring Iran into line.
Pompeo appeared to indicate that was the case and warned that more strikes could follow.
“I think the president’s been unambiguous,” he said, before stressing “our determination that in the event the Iranians make another bad choice, the president will respond in the way he did last week, which was decisive, serious and messaged Iran about the constraints we are going to place on that regime so that it doesn’t continue to put American lives at risk.”
“In the end, our Iran policy is about protecting individuals and defending the homeland and securing American lives,” Pompeo said. “I know that the efforts we have taken not only last week with the strike against Soleimani, but the strategy that we’ve employed has saved American lives. ”
He reiterated the link made by the administration so far that the targeted strike was a defensive measure made in light of Soleimani plotting “imminent” attacks that put American lives at risk. But the administration has declined to provide any evidence to support that argument, leading to questions about the legality of the strike, which Iranians and the Iraqi government have described as an assassination — effectively, murder that is politically motivated.
As Iran’s top general and the second most powerful figure in the regime there, Soleimani is widely credited as the architect of Iran’s broader influence campaign across the Middle East and for plotting attacks against western interests, along with brutal crackdowns on Iranian protesters in recent years.
However, the previous Obama and Bush administrations both declined to target Soleimani over concerns that such a strike would inflame tensions and lead to violent fallout across the Middle East.
Iran has threatened retaliation against the U.S. for the strike, with many experts warning a cyberattack could be one route the regime may consider.
That possibility of retaliation was among the topics addressed Tuesday afternoon by U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in a briefing with reporters.
“We’re prepared for any contingency and will respond appropriately to anything they do,” he said when asked about possible attacks, raising the question of whether Iran might choose to do so “by its own hand” or through proxies.
Esper claimed the U.S. had “reached a point where we had to act in self-defence” and like Pompeo, appeared to level a warning to Iran as they consider their next steps.
“We are not looking to start a war with Iran, but we are prepared to finish one,” Esper said.
“What they do next will determine what happens in subsequent moves.”