WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday the Trump administration foresees no more Iranian military attacks in retaliation for the U.S. strike that killed the Islamic Republic’s most powerful general. The Pentagon chief suggested that Iran’s government is under internal threat following its downing of a Ukrainian civilian airliner.
“You can see the Iranian people are standing up and asserting their rights, their aspirations for a better government — a different regime,” Esper said.
Iranians have expressed anger over the downing of the Ukrainian flight on Wednesday and the misleading explanations from senior officials in the immediate aftermath. Later the government took the blame for the shootdown, saying it was a tragic accident caused by human error. The plane crash killed all 176 people on board, mostly Iranians and Iranian-Canadians.
On Sunday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted his support for the Iranian protesters.
“To the leaders of Iran – DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!
Esper said Iran deserves credit for taking responsibility for the shootdown.
“My hunch is it was an accident,” he said, adding that although Iranian government officials initially blamed American propaganda, they ultimately “did the right thing by admitting it.”
Esper also said the administration’s offer to negotiate a new nuclear deal with Iran without precondition still stands.
Esper said Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force still presents a threat across the Mideast, but the specific attacks he said were being planned by the late Quds Force leader, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, have been “disrupted.”
Esper was pressed to comment on Trump’s statement in a Fox News interview that the president believed Soleimani had been plotting to attack four U.S. embassies. Esper said he shared the belief that Soleimani was planning attacks on multiple U.S. facilities, but Esper did not say these included four embassies.
Esper appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and CNN’s “State of the Union.”