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8:32 p.m. ET, January 13, 2020

Analysis: Barr and Pompeo shift justification for Iran strike from 'imminent' threat to deterrence

Getty Images
Getty Images

Trump administration officials have issued confusing explanations, contradicting each other about how imminent a threat the Iranian general posed, whether they had specific intelligence on the threat and even what that threat was, with Trump saying one thing, then another, while officials offered varying explanations.

Immediately after the strike, US Secretary of State Pompeo told CNN Soleimani had been involved in planning an "imminent attack" in the region that put American lives at risk, adding that the US made an intelligence-based assessment that killing Soleimani would save Americans.

The Pentagon, however, offered a slightly different account, saying in a statement that the strike was carried out to deter future attacks against US interests.

While both could be true, the discrepancy has resulted in some confusion over how the administration intends to explain its reasoning for killing the man many considered to be the second most powerful figure in Iran without congressional approval.

On Monday, during a speech at the Stanford's Hoover Institute, Pompeo reiterated that "there was in fact a set of imminent attacks that were being plotted by Qasem Soleimani," but his emphasis on deterrence marked a notable departure from how he has sought to justify the strike in the 11 days since it took place. He said:

"I want to lay this out in context of what we've been trying to do. There's a bigger strategy to this. President Trump and those of us in his national security team are re-establishing deterrence -- real deterrence ‒ against the Islamic Republic of Iran."

US Attorney General William Barr's comments today at press conference in Pensacola, Florida also indicate the administration may be pivoting away from its core defense of the strike and reframing its argument around the idea of deterrence. He said:

Our ability to deter attacks had obviously broken down. The Iranians had been given a number of red lines and were crossing those lines.
This was a legitimate act of self-defense because it disrupted ongoing attacks that were being conducted, a campaign against the Americans. And it reestablished deterrence, it responded to attacks that had been already committed.
Our purpose and our expectation was not to trigger a broader conflict or that events would spin out of control. On the contrary, we believed that the strike would restore deterrence and help avoid a upward spiral of the violence.

Read more here.

3:24 p.m. ET, January 13, 2020

51% of voters disapprove of Trump's Iran policy, survey says

President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the White House on the ballistic missile strike that Iran launched against Iraqi air bases housing U.S. troops, Wednesday, January 8, in Washington.
President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the White House on the ballistic missile strike that Iran launched against Iraqi air bases housing U.S. troops, Wednesday, January 8, in Washington. Evan Vucci/AP

A new national poll from Quinnipiac University finds 45% of registered voters nationwide say the killing of Qasem Soleimani was the right action for the US to take, while 41% say it was the wrong action.

Still, 51% say they disapprove of the way Trump is handling the nation’s policy toward Iran while 43% approve – a divide that’s similar to the President’s overall approval rating in this poll (43% approve to 52% disapprove).

Here are some more key findings:

  • 45%, say Soleimani’s killing has made Americans less safe, while 32% say it has made the U.S. safer and 18% say it had no impact on Americans’ safety. 
  • Voters are split over the decision to send more troops to the Middle East after Soleimani’s death — 44% approve, 46% disapprove. But most, 58%, say they think the tensions between the US and Iran will not lead to war, 29% say they will.
  • About two-thirds, or 64%, say they would oppose going to war with Iran, though a majority of Republicans — 55% — say they would support it.  
2:56 p.m. ET, January 13, 2020

Pompeo: US is committed to working with Iraq on troop presence 

POOL
POOL

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US is committed to working with “duly elected leaders in Iraq to get to the right place” on force posture in the country. He also echoed President Trump’s previous comments, saying that in private conversations, Iraqi leaders were not opposed to the US’ continued presence in the country.

“I’ve probably had 50 phone calls with various Iraqis over just these past 10 days. Sunni leaders, Kurdish leaders, Shia leaders from a broad spectrum of the Shia community as well,” Pompeo said at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. “They won’t all say so publicly, but privately they all welcome the fact that America is still there executing its counter-terror campaign, making sure that Daesh ISIS doesn’t re-emerge in theater and providing an opportunity for the Iraqis to gain the sovereignty and independence that most Iraqis want.”

Pompeo said he was “fully supportive of President Trump’s effort to reduce the American footprint throughout the region” and noted that the risk posed by the forces formerly commanded by Qasem Soleimani “is not behind us.”

2:53 p.m. ET, January 13, 2020

Pompeo reiterates claim of "imminent" attacks Soleimani was plotting

POOL
POOL

Although he did not mention “imminent” attacks in his remarks at the Hoover Institution today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did reference such attacks during the Q&A portion of the event.

Responding to a question about why the American people should trust the intelligence about the reported “imminent” threats from Qasem Soleimani, Pompeo said, “There was in fact a set of imminent attacks that were being plotted by Qasem Soleimani.” 

“It was unmistakable,” he said. Pompeo said the intelligence community’s view was “that the risks were real and growing and that the actions that we took that day reduced that risk. It never eliminates it. But it reduced that risk.”

However, Pompeo, a former CIA director, told the audience that “the intelligence community makes mistakes, all the time.”

“Right? It happens. But the depth and breadth and intellect, the capacity and reach of America’s intelligence capability is enormous. And they do their level best to present this accurately,” he said. “I can say to the American people, you should have enormous confidence in the intelligence community, that their efforts are genuine, they are real, they are authentic, they are trying to provide good data sets to, now I’m on the other side, as the policy adviser for the president, receiving this intelligence, informing our decision-making.”
2:08 p.m. ET, January 13, 2020

Iraqi Prime Minister's office says there is "no agreement with the US" to keep troops in Iraq

Iraq has no agreement to keep US troops in Iraq to continue the fight against ISIS, the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office spokesman William Warda said today.

Warda told CNN the Iraqi government would back the Iraqi Parliament’s Jan. 5 vote to expel American troops from the country, in response to a Turkish official saying otherwise in an interview with CNN on Monday. 

Earlier today, İbrahim Kalın, a spokesman for the Turkish president, said, “Although the Iraqi parliament passed an recommendary resolution, I think they [the US and Iraq] have or they are about to reach an agreement to continue the fight against ISIS.”

Warda said, "Until this moment, the Iraqi government is committed to implement the Iraqi Parliament decision, which states that all foreign troops should withdraw from Iraq. Foreign troops does not mean only American troops but all other foreign troops presence in Iraq."

He added, "There is no agreement with the US administration on keeping the troops and the government is on the track to implement the decision of the Iraqi parliament." 

1:10 p.m. ET, January 13, 2020

US's killing of Soleimani was "provocative act," Turkey says

Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin holds a press conference on December 11, 2019.
Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin holds a press conference on December 11, 2019. Halil Sagirkaya/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Turkish presidential spokesperson and special advisor Ibrahim Kalin has criticized the US killing of Iran’s top general, Qassim Soleimani, saying it was a “provocative act” that will only make regional problems “more complicated."

Kalin told CNN Iraq has “turned into a battlefield for power muscling for the US” and other proxy forces in the region. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s special advisor told CNN that Turkey is concerned about the long-term consequences of the attack — mainly the effects on Iraq’s recovery and state structure, the political process in Syria and peace efforts in Yemen.

“When these actions are taken, it may bring some political wins in the short term, but it puts everyone’s security at risk," he said.

Kalin also said Turkey is speaking to “American and Iranians to make sure the whole region is not swamped in another cycle of violence”. He told CNN that the US and Turkey are “on the same page” on the broader goals in the region, but that Iran is an “important player” that needs to be engaged with. He also said the US and Iraq remain committed to fighting ISIS in the region.  

12:19 p.m. ET, January 13, 2020

Eyewitness: Heavy anti-riot police outnumber protesters in Tehran

Iranian riot police use a water cannon to disperse protesters during a demonstration outside Tehran's Amir Kabir University on January 11.
Iranian riot police use a water cannon to disperse protesters during a demonstration outside Tehran's Amir Kabir University on January 11. -/AFP via Getty Images

Heavy anti-riot police and plainclothes security agents were seen in Enqhelab (Revolution) Square in Tehran on Monday evening local time, an eyewitness tells CNN.

The eyewitness said the protesters who are out in Tehran tonight are nearly outnumbered by the police.

11:37 a.m. ET, January 13, 2020

Mike Pompeo won't testify at a House Iran hearing

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will not appear at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing about Iran tomorrow, Chairman Eliot Engel announced today.

“I’m disappointed and frustrated that Secretary Pompeo will not appear before the committee tomorrow,” the New York Democrat said in a statement.

His statement continued: “Each passing day raises new questions about the strike that killed General Soleimani. Was there really an imminent threat? Was it part of a larger operation? What was the legal justification? What is the path forward? With the wildly muddled explanations coming from the administration, the Secretary should welcome the opportunity to make the case and answer questions before the American people. The committee expects to hear from him soon.” 

Where's Pompeo: He's is in California for a series of meetings and speeches through Wednesday. Engel invited the Secretary of State to testify in a letter sent last week.

11:02 a.m. ET, January 13, 2020

Trump continues to claim Soleimani attack was imminent

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

President Trump is defending his administration’s claims that a future attack by Iran’s Qasem Soleimani was imminent (although he spelled it “eminent”) but added: “it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!” 

In a second tweet minutes later, Trump wrote that “The Democrats and the Fake News are trying to make terrorist Soleimani into a wonderful guy, only because I did what should have been done for 20 years.” Trump adds that “anything” he does will “be scorned by the Rafical Left.”

More context: This weekend two of his top national security officials declined to provide any evidence of the intelligence used to justify the US drone strike. In interviews that aired Sunday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and national security adviser Robert O'Brien both did not cite specific intelligence information when pressed by interviewers. Trump said in an interview Friday that he approved the military attack earlier this month that killed Qasem Soleimani because he believed the Iranian general was targeting the embassies.

Here are Trump's tweets: