The successor to Iran’s top commander killed in a US drone strike will suffer the same fate if he tries to kill Americans, the US special representative for Iran was quoted as saying on Thursday.
The United States blamed General Qassem Soleimani for masterminding attacks by Iran-aligned militia on US forces in the Middle East. US President Donald Trump ordered the January 3 drone strike in Iraq on Soleimani’s convoy.
Iran responded to the killing by launching missiles at US targets in Iraq on January 8, although no American soldiers died.
After Soleimani’s death, Tehran swiftly appointed Esmail Qaani as the new head of the Quds Force, an elite unit in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that handles actions abroad. Qaani has pledged to pursue Soleimani’s course of action.
“If Qaani follows the same path of killing Americans then he will meet the same fate,” US envoy Brian Hook told the Arabic-language daily Asharq al-Awsat.
He said in the interview in Davos, Switzerland that Trump had long made it clear “that any attack on Americans or American interests would be met with a decisive response”.
“This isn’t a new threat. The president has always said that he will always respond decisively to protect American interests,” Hook said. “I think the Iranian regime understands now that they cannot attack America and get away with it.”
After his appointment, Qaani said he would “continue in this luminous path” taken by Soleimani and the goal was to drive American forces out of the region, Iran’s long-stated policy.
Qaani earlier this week accused the US of assassinating Soleimani “in a cowardly way” and promised to “hit his enemy in a manly fashion“.
The US threat to kill Qaani was a sign of “governmental terrorism”, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Thursday, according to the official IRIB news agency.
“These words are an official announcement and a clear unveiling of America’s targeted and governmental terrorism,” Mousavi said, calling on the international community to condemn Hook’s comments.
The Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division commander said four US military bases in the Middle East were used to deploy aircraft and drones involved in the attack that killed Soleimani, including two bases in Iraq and another in Kuwait.
“Most of the drones” had taken off from Kuwait, Amirali Hajizadeh told state television, without saying if a drone from Kuwait was ultimately responsible for the hit on Soleimani.
US-Iranian tensions have steadily increased since Trump withdrew the United States from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018, and imposed crushing news sanctions that have hammered the Iranian economy.
The military flare-up began in December when rockets fired at US bases in Iraq killed a US contractor. Washington blamed pro-Iran militia and carried out air raids that killed at least 25 fighters.
After a militia surrounded the US embassy in Baghdad for two days, Trump ordered the drone strike on Soleimani.
The war of words continued this week with an Iranian legislator, Ahmad Hamzeh, putting a three-million-dollar bounty on Trump’s head.
American envoy Robert Wood dismissed the reward as “ridiculous”, telling reporters it showed the “terrorist underpinnings” of Iran’s establishment.