Lethbridge Herald

No obvious threat before drone attack



Defence Secretary Mark Esper explicitly said Sunday that he had seen no hard evidence that four American embassies had been under possible threat when President Donald Trump authorized the targeting of Iran’s top commander, raising questions about the scale of the threat described by Trump last week.

As the administra­tion struggled with its justificat­ion for the drone strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Esper and other officials tried to refocus attention on voices of dissent in Iran.

Esper said street protests in Tehran show the Iranian people are hungry for a more accountabl­e government after leaders denied, then admitted shooting down a Ukrainian passenger plane. The plane was downed shortly after Iran launches strikes against US bases in Iraq in retaliatio­n for Soleimani’s killing.

“You can see the Iranian people are standing up and asserting their rights, their aspiration­s for a better government — a different regime,” Esper said. He appeared on two Sunday news shows while national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, was interviewe­d on three others — pressing the White House’s campaign to bring “maximum pressure” on Tehran to change its behaviour.

O’Brien suggested the United States sees this moment as an opportunit­y to further intensify pressure on Iran’s leaders, with whom the U.S. has been at odds for four decades. Iran’s leaders already are under enormous strain from economic sanctions that have virtually strangled Iran’s main source of income — oil exports.

Trump himself is under great pressure as he faces an expected impeachmen­t trial in the Senate. Many in Congress also are upset over his handling of Iran, complainin­g that the administra­tion did not consult them in advance of the Jan. 3 strike that killed Iran’s most powerful general, nor adequately brief members afterward. Trump complicate­d the debate by asserting on Fox News that he had to strike quickly because intelligen­ce showed Iran could have attacked four American embassies.

Both Esper and O’Brien said they agreed that Iran might have hit more than just the U.S. Embassy in the Iraqi capital. But Esper, when asked whether there was a specific piece of evidence, replied: “I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies.’’ And in response to a question about whether Trump was “embellishi­ng’’ the threat, Esper said, “I don’t believe so.”

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