WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump authorized the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani seven months ago if Iran’s increased aggression resulted in the death of an American, according to five current and former senior administration officials.
The presidential directive in June came with the condition that Trump would have final signoff on any specific operation to kill Soleimani, officials said.
That decision explains why assassinating Soleimani was on the menu of options that the military presented to Trump two weeks ago for responding to an attack by Iranian proxies in Iraq, in which a U.S. contractor was killed and four U.S. service members were wounded, the officials said.
The timing, however, could undermine the Trump administration’s stated justification for ordering the U.S. drone strike that killed Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 3. Officials have said Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, was planning imminent attacks on Americans and had to be stopped.
“There have been a number of options presented to the president over the course of time,” a senior administration official said, adding that it was “some time ago” that the president’s aides put assassinating Soleimani on the list of potential responses to Iranian aggression.
After Iran shot down a U.S. drone in June, John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser at the time, urged Trump to retaliate by signing off on an operation to kill Soleimani, officials said. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also wanted Trump to authorize the assassination, officials said.
But Trump rejected the idea, saying he’d take that step only if Iran crossed his red line: killing an American. The president’s message was “that’s only on the table if they hit Americans,” according to a person briefed on the discussion.