Was attack by Soleimani 'imminent' before U.S. killed him? Pompeo dodges the question.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday defended President Trump’s order to launch a drone strike that killed Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani, escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Pompeo, who appeared on all the top Sunday morning network and cable news shows, maintained that “the world’s a safer place” after the airstrike near Baghdad’s airport killed Soleimani and several associates. The White House said Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” 

Amid reports casting doubt on the intelligence of an imminent Iranian attack on American targets, Pompeo maintained that there was sufficient evidence that Soleimani, who as commander of Iran’s Quds Force has been responsible for hundreds of American deaths in Iraq, was planning further attacks. He did not cite a specific target or date. 

“The American people have the evidence right in front of their eyes,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union” host Jake Tapper. “We don't have to guess about what Soleimani was up to. We know what he did on December 27th. He killed an American. And we know what he's done for years and years and years, killed hundreds of Americans.

“There's no need to guess about what Soleimani would have been up to the day after, and the day after, and the day after,” he continued. “We saw that he was plotting further plans to take down Americans, and in some cases many Americans. We took the right action to defend and protect America.”

When asked exactly how imminent the attacks were, Pompeo dodged the question. 

“Are we talking about days? Are we talking about weeks?” Tapper asked. 

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the Libya summit in Berlin, Germany, January 19, 2020. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds a meeting with CIA Director nominee Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., in his Capitol office on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

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Mike Pompeo (L) is sworn in as CIA Director by Vice President Mike Pence (R) as wife Susan Pompeo (2nd L) looks on at Eisenhower Executive Office Building January 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pompeo was confirmed for the position by the Senate this evening.

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UNITED STATES - JUNE 28: Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., right, chairman of the Select Committee on Benghazi, conducts a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center, June 28, 2016, to announce the Committee's report on the 2012 attacks in Libya that killed four Americans. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., also appears. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Representative Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director nominee for President-elect Donald Trump, swears in to a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Pompeo is seeking to reassure senators that he can shift from an outspoken policymaker to an objective spy chief if confirmed.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds a meeting with CIA Director nominee Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., in his Capitol office on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

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Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) arrives to testify before a Senate Intelligence hearing on his nomination of to be become director of the CIA at Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) finishes swearing in Mike Pompeo, flanked by his wife Susan Pompeo, to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the vice president's ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 23, 2017.

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Adam Schiff (D-CA) left, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) center, and moderator Chuck Todd, right, appear on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015.

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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for the director of the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) attends his confirmation hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Pompeo is a former Army officer who graduated first in his class from West Point.

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Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) listens as Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) speaks during his confirmation hearing to be the director of the CIA before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Pompeo is a former Army officer who graduated first in his class from West Point.

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Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., center, nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is introduced by former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., right, and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., during Pompeo's Senate Select Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building, January 12, 2017. The hearing was moved from Hart Building due to a peer outage.

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Incoming Trump administration cabinet secretary nominees including Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson (L-R), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director nominee Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis arrive for meetings at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 13, 2017.

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Mike Pompeo (2nd L), flanked by his wife Susan Pompeo (2nd R) and their son Nick Pompeo (R), signs his affidavit of appointment after being sworn in as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) in Pence's ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 23, 2017.

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“If you're an American in the region, days and weeks, this is not something that’s relevant,” Pompeo responded, adding, “You have to prepare. You have to be ready.”

“If the Iranian leadership makes a bad decision — we hope that they won’t —but when they do, America will respond.”

Pompeo said he was “proud” of Trump’s order and the execution of the drone strike. 

“It’s very clear the world’s a safer place today. Qassem Soleimani no longer walks the planet,” Pompeo told George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program “This Week,” adding that Trump “made the right decision to stop Qassem Soleimani.” 

“We would have been culpably negligent had we not taken this strike,” he said.

Trump on Friday said he gave the order “to stop a war,” not start one. 

As Iran vowed “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s killing, the State Department instructed Americans to leave Iraq as well as Pakistan and Iran. The Pentagon on Friday announced it was deploying 3,500 additional U.S. troops to the Middle East to help protect American assets.

Trump on Saturday tweeted a “warning” that Iran “will be hit very fast and very hard” if they attacked in retaliation to Soleimani’s killing.

“Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran &  the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!” Trump said. 

Pompeo dismissed arguments that Trump’s threat to attack targets of cultural importance would constitute a violation of the Geneva Convention, which defines the destruction of cultural objects and places of worship as war crimes. He maintained that the U.S. would react “lawfully” in the event of an attack on American assets. 

“I’ve seen what we are planning in terms of the target set. I’m sure the Department of Defense is continuing to develop options,” Pompeo said. “The American people should know that every target that we strike will be a lawful target, and it will be a target designed with a singular mission, of protecting and defending America.”

A leading Iranian military adviser, Hossein Dehghan, told CNN said the country's response to the killing of Soleimani will be a military response. 

"It was America that has started the war. Therefore, they should accept appropriate reactions to their actions,” Dehghan said. “The only thing that can end this period of war is for the Americans to receive a blow that is equal to the blow they have inflicted. Afterward, they should not seek a new cycle." 

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