Trump says U.S. killed Soleimani 'to stop a war'

President Trump said Friday that he ordered the targeted killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq in order “to stop a war.”

Speaking to reporters gathered at Mar-a-Lago, one of his Florida golf resorts, Trump gave his first on-camera comments on the decision to kill Soleimani, the second most powerful political figure in Iran.

"We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war,” Trump said, countering his Democratic critics who have expressed concern that the move has brought the country closer to military conflict with Iran. The president added that the U.S. did “not seek regime change” in Iran, and had carried out the drone strike that killed Soleimani out of self-defense.

“The United States military successfully executed a flawless precision strike that killed the No. 1 terrorist anywhere in the world,” Trump said of Soleimani, who he said was “planning imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him.”

President Trump makes a statement on Iran on Jan. 3. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP) (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

The leader of Iran’s elite military divisions, Soleimani had been in the U.S.’s crosshairs for years, though prior presidents had refrained from ordering his killing, fearing doing so would ignite a larger war. On Friday, the Pentagon announced it was deploying 3,500 additional U.S. troops to the Middle East to help protect American assets. Iran, meanwhile, has vowed “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s killing, which came after an escalation in tensions between the two nations over the past weeks.

“The recent attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq, including rocket strikes that killed an American and injured four American servicemen very badly, as well as a violent assault on our embassy in Baghdad, were carried out at the direction of Soleimani,” Trump said.

Several of the candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination said that killing Soleimani brought the country to the brink of war with Iran.

“President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,” former Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement, adding that “Iran will surely respond.”

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