On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a warning to Iran if it has any desire to promote further conflict with the United States, asserting, “The United States is not seeking a war with Iran but we are prepared to finish one.”
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Esper continued, “We are seeking a diplomatic solution, but first this will require Iran to deescalate, it will require the regime to come to the table with the goal of preventing further bloodshed … We are open to having this discussion with them but we are just as prepared to deliver a forceful response to defend our interests. . . . The architects of terror should know that we will not tolerate attacks against America’s people and interests and will exercise our right to self defense should that become necessary once again,” as The Hill reported.
Esper stated that the attack planned by Iranian general Qassem Soleimani that was the cause of the airstrike ordered by President Trump killing Soleimani was assessed at being “days away,” adding, “He was a legitimate target and his time was due.”
Esper dismissed reports that U.S. forces would withdraw from Iraq, stating, “To the best of my knowledge I haven’t seen any communication from [the Iraqi prime minister] or the Iraqi government about the legislation or about an order or a request to withdraw U.S. forces.” He also said he has been in communication with commanders in the armed forces “to ensure they have the resources they need to protect their people and prepare for any contingencies. As a result, we’ve increased our force protection postures across the region and will continue to reposition and bolster our forces as necessary.”
On Tuesday President Trump told reporters, “I will say this: if Iran does anything they shouldn’t be doing, they will be suffering the consequences and very strongly.”
Also on Tuesday, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien appeared on Fox & Friends, where he asserted, “The president believes that weakness is provocative, and I think we have seen that throughout history. It’s something that’s been a cornerstone of President Trump’s foreign policy and national security policy … Soleimani and the Iranian regime knew exactly what they were doing. And what I think they did is they underestimated the president and his restraint.”
On Monday, as The Daily Wire reported, Esper stated:
First of all, we continue to deploy forces and reposition forces throughout the region to bolster our security, our force protection, and also to be prepared for any contingency, Number two, over the last several days I’ve had conversations with many, many of our allies and partners about the situation in – in Iraq and the region. I got to tell you it’s been uniform support for our position and for our actions and I continue to convey to them the importance we place on continuing the defeat ISIS mission for those who are involved in that operation [and] for our commitment to partnering with Iraq going forward.
And number three, to the mission that we’ve always said about deterring Iranian bad behavior and standing up to this malign behavior that has been ever present now for 40-plus years. And number three, on the diplomatic front part and parcel to this conversation has been what I’ve said to them, is that – is that we remain prepared for any contingency with regard to Iran. That our message to Iran is that the ball is in their court.