Qassem Suleimani was killed as part of a broader strategy of deterring challenges by US foes that also applies to China and Russia, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has said, further diluting the assertion that the senior Iranian general was targeted because he was plotting imminent attacks on US assets.
In his speech at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, Pompeo made no mention of the threat of imminent attacks planned by Suleimani. It only was in response to a question that he repeated his earlier assertion that pre-empting such plots was the reason for the 3 January US drone strike on Iran’s second most powerful official.
His speech, titled The Restoration of Deterrence: The Iranian Example, focused on what he called a Trump administration strategy to establish “real deterrence” against Iran following earlier Republican and Democratic policies that encouraged Tehran’s “malign activity”.
Democratic and some Republican lawmakers have challenged the administration over the self-defence rationale supported by undisclosed intelligence over imminent attacks. US president Donald Trump has said the potential targets included four US embassies.
On Sunday, the defence secretary, Mark Esper, said he had seen no intelligence forewarning of imminent attacks on embassies.
Trump on Monday added new fuel to the controversy by saying “it really doesn’t matter” whether Suleimani posed an imminent threat.
Pompeo said there was “a bigger strategy” behind the killing of Suleimani, the commander of al-Quds, Iran’s elite foreign espionage and paramilitary force.