Trump ups Iran accusations, says 4 US embassies targeted

Washington, Confronted by persistent questions about his military action in the Middle East, President Donald Trump and his top officials offered a string of fresh explanations Friday, with Trump now contending Iranian militants had planned major attacks on four U.S. embassies.

Just hours earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said the U.S. didn’t know when or where attacks might occur. Trump and other officials insisted anew that Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani had posed an imminent threat to the U.S., but they rebuffed repeated attempts to explain what they meant by imminent.

Trump, meanwhile, announced additional sanctions against Iran, which he had promised after a barrage of missiles fired by the Islamic Republic against American bases in Iraq earlier this week, The Associated Press reported.

Those Iranian missiles, which caused no casualties, were prompted by the U.S. drone strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week in Baghdad. That U.S. assault set off a chain of events that included the unintentional downing of a Ukrainian jetliner by the Iran military, and calls by the Iraqi government to expel U.S. troops from their country.

At the White House, Trump issued an executive order adding additional U.S. sanctions to the already long list his administration had imposed in an effort to force Iran to accept a new agreement that would curb its nuclear program and to halt support for militant groups throughout the Middle East.

Trump declared the U.S. was holding Iran responsible for attacks against the United States as well as a threat to U.S. service members, diplomats and civilians an apparent reference to the justification for killing Soleimani.

The United States will continue to counter the Iranian regime’s destructive and destabilizing behavior, he said, quoted by The AP.

But Trump and others faced continuing questions over their claims of an imminent threat. Members of Congress said Pompeo and other officials did not provide sufficient detail or justification in briefings this week.

Define what you mean by imminent, Pompeo was asked Friday at a White House news conference.

I don’t know exactly which minute, Pompeo said. We don’t know exactly which day it would have been executed, but it was very clear. Qassem Soleimani himself was plotting a broad, large-scale attack against American interests and those attacks were imminent.

Both Pompeo and Trump had said U.S. embassies were threatened. The secretary of state broadened it to include American facilities, including military bases throughout the region. This was going to happen, and American lives were at risk, he said.

Trump gave a more worrisome number but still no specifics in a later comment.

I can reveal that I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies, he told Fox News in an interview taped Friday.

The sanctions added Friday include measures aimed at eight senior Iranian officials involved in what Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called destabilizing activities throughout the Middle East as well as Tuesday’s missile barrage.

Those measures, which would freeze any assets the officials have in U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit financial transactions with them, are largely symbolic since such senior figures are unlikely to have assets under American control after decades of hostility between the two nations.

But other measures announced Friday could have a significant effect on strategically important sectors of the Iranian economy, said Ben Davis, chief research officer at research and data analytics firm Kharon.

The executive order grants the administration power to place anyone involved, even indirectly, in the construction, manufacturing, textile or mining sector on a global financial blacklist. It also targets 17 of the largest steel and iron manufacturers one of the few growth spots in the hobbled Iranian economy along with three foreign companies, including two based in China, under secondary sanctions.

Source: Bahrain News Agency