President Donald Trump had been considering options for eliminating Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani for months before ordering the strike that killed the Quds Force commander.
Trump had issued a directive in June 2019, setting the preconditions to authorize Soleimani’s killing if tensions with Iran caused the deaths of any Americans. Trump set a final precondition stipulating that he sign off on any strike on Soleimani before it happened, according to five unnamed current and former senior administration officials who spoke to NBC News.
The reported directive conveys the planning behind the U.S. drone strike that killed Soleimani days after Iranian-backed Iraqi militia forces fired rockets that killed one U.S. contractor and injured several U.S. service members. The drone strike was one of several options reportedly presented to Trump.
“There have been a number of options presented to the president over the course of time,” a senior administration official said, alluding to past White House discussions on Soleimani and Iran.
John Bolton, Trump’s then-national security adviser reportedly told Trump to order the Soleimani strike in June 2019 after Iran shot down a U.S. drone. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also advised Trump to authorize the strike.
However, Trump rejected the advice and said he would only consider that option if Iran killed an American.
Trump’s order of killing Soleimani was “only on the table if they hit Americans,” according to an unnamed source for NBC.
Soleimani previously came up in discussions between Trump and Pompeo, according to NBC. When Trump first took office, then-CIA Director Pompeo reportedly advised Trump to take a more direct approach with Soleimani. The idea of killing Soleimani also reportedly came up in discussions in 2017 between Trump and former national security advisor H.R. McMaster.
The details indicate that the U.S. plan to kill Soleimani extended earlier in Trump’s presidency than previously realized, and preceded the most recent tensions with Iran.
Last week, Trump said he ordered the Soleimani strike because “they were looking to blow up our embassy,” referring to the embassy in Baghdad. A day later, Trump expanded the scope of Soleimani’s and Iran’s possible targets to include as many as four embassies in the region.
“I can reveal that I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham.
Previous U.S. presidents had also kept a watch on Soleimani’s actions. President George W. Bush designated Soleimani’s Quds Force a foreign terrorist organization in 2007. The Obama administration also announced sanctions on Soleimani and three other Quds Force leaders connected to an alleged assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.
Trump continued a similar vein of pressure on Iran in April 2019, by designating the entirety of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization.