By Robert A. Vella
The Trump administration’s rationale for assassinating a top Iranian military officer keeps changing in the vain hope that something will stick. Yesterday, senior officials contradicted the latest claim by the president while new reporting supports my assertion from last week that Trump’s true motive involved his impending impeachment trial in the Senate. Another assertion I offered earlier this week, that the apparent de-escalation from outright war between Iran and the U.S. was prearranged, has also been confirmed. Meanwhile, Iran has now admitted that its military forces mistakenly shot down a commercial Ukrainian airliner shortly after it departed an airport in Tehran.
Here are those stories and today’s other news:
President Trump said on Friday that a senior Iranian general killed by a U.S. drone strike had been planning attacks on four U.S. embassies, a claim made to justify the decision but that was at odds with intelligence assessments from senior officials in Trump’s administration.
Trump and his top advisers have been under intensifying pressure from lawmakers in both parties to share more details about the intelligence they say showed Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was planning imminent attacks against U.S. personnel in the Middle East. On Trump’s orders, Soleimani was killed last week in a drone strike, prompting Iran to fire a volley of ballistic missiles this week at bases in Iraq housing U.S. soldiers.
But a senior administration official and a senior defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified information, said they were only aware of vague intelligence about a plot against the embassy in Baghdad and that the information did not suggest a fully formed plot. Neither official said there were threats against multiple embassies.
According to two separate reports this week, President Donald Trump may have had the impeachment process on his mind when giving the go-ahead for the drone strike that assassinated Iranian military and intelligence official Qasem Soleimani last week.
On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported: “Mr. Trump, after the strike, told associates he was under pressure to deal with Gen. Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate, associates said.”
The Journal does not name any of the senators in question, but it does follow a similar report from the New York Times on Tuesday that said the president has been “pressured to take a harder line on Iran by some Republican senators whose support he needs now more than ever amid an impeachment battle.”
BERN, Switzerland—Hours after a U.S. strike killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Trump administration sent an urgent back channel message to Tehran: Don’t escalate.
The encrypted fax was sent via the Swiss Embassy in Iran, one of the few means of direct, confidential communication between the two sides, U.S. officials said.
In the days that followed, the White House and Iranian leaders exchanged further messages, which officials in both countries described as far more measured than the fiery rhetoric traded publicly by politicians.
After maintaining for days that there was no evidence to show one of its missiles had struck the plane, the Iranian military said it was an accident caused by human error.
Iran announced early Saturday that it had accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, blaming it on human error because of what it called the plane’s sharp, unexpected turn toward a sensitive military base, according to a statement issued by the country’s military.
The announcement reversed Iran’s claims that mechanical issues caused the crash of the aircraft, which killed all 176 people aboard. It had persistently denied that Iranian military defenses had downed the aircraft, a Boeing 737-800.
The Trump administration announced Friday it will suspend charter flights to all destinations in Cuba except the international airport in Havana, the most recent in a series of sanctions against the island’s government for its support of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.
Tsai Ing-wen has won reelection as President of Taiwan on Saturday night by a landslide, defeating the populist challenge of her pro-China opponent in a campaign dominated by how to handle growing pressure from Beijing.
Crisis-hit Lebanon on Saturday said it “regrets” being among seven countries stripped by the United Nations of voting privileges in the General Assembly for failing to pay their dues.
On Friday the United Nations said seven countries — Lebanon, Yemen, Venezuela, Central African Republic, Gambia, Lesotho and Tonga — have fallen behind in their financial contributions and would not be able to in the 74th session of the General Assembly.
California’s sanctuary law, which prohibits most types of law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration agents, is binding on the state’s 121 charter cities, including an Orange County community that has refused to enforce it, a state appeals court ruled Friday.