President Donald Trump said Friday that the strike that killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was designed to prevent a war—not start one.
Less than a day after the airstrike in Baghdad, Trump told reporters in Florida that the United States “took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.” He didn’t take any questions.
“We do not seek regime change, however, the Iranian regime’s aggression in the region, including the use of proxy fighters to destabilize its neighbors must end and it must end now,” the president remarked. “I am ready and prepared to take whatever action is necessary and that in particular refers to Iran,” Trump said.
The top general, who was in charge of the powerful Quds Force, has long been accused of fomenting discord in the Middle East and has been accused by the State Department of supporting terrorist organizations in the region. The killing of Soleimani marks an escalation in the decades-long standoff between Tehran and Washington—namely after the Trump administration pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Soleimani “made the death of innocent people his sick passion,” Trump said at Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago. “We caught him in the act and terminated him.”
Trump said that Soleimani should have been killed by previous presidents years ago.
“A lot of lives would have been saved,” Trump remarked, adding that what the United States did “should have [been] done long ago.”
“We will always protect our diplomats, service members, all Americans, and our allies,” he said, adding that Soleimani’s Quds Force killed and injured hundreds of Americans over the years.
For any would-be adversary—Iran or otherwise—Trump warned the United States has the strongest military and the greatest ability to gather intelligence in the world.
The president’s message came nearly a day after the Department of Defense confirmed in a statement that Trump had directed the strike against Soleimani. The Pentagon called it a defensive move aimed at deterring pending Iranian attack plots.
The surprise killing of one of the most powerful men in Iran marks one of Trump’s boldest military moves while in office. Soleimani’s death will also likely elevate U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East as the race for the presidency heats up.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also made statements to the media about the attack being defensive in nature.
“The president’s been pretty clear. We don’t seek war with Iran,” Pompeo told Fox News. “But we, at the same time, are not going to stand by and watch the Iranians escalate and continue to put American lives at risk without responding in a way that disrupts, defends, deters and creates an opportunity to deescalate the situation.”
Iranian officials, meanwhile, have vowed to exact revenge while other powers in the region have urged the two nations to deescalate the conflict.