The Latest: Trump says US not looking to start war with Iran

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Donald Trump

President Donald Trump delivers remarks on Iran, at his Mar-a-Lago property, Friday, Jan. 3, 2020, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

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BAGHDAD (AP) — The latest on the U.S. airstrike in Baghdad that killed Iran’s top general (all times local):

11:20 p.m.

President Donald Trump says the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani was not undertaken in an effort to begin a conflict with Iran.

Speaking to reporters in Florida for the first time since the drone strike on Soleimani, Trump says: “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.”

Trump also says he does not seek regime change in Iran, but the nation’s use of “proxy fighters to destabilize its neighbors must end and it must end now.”

Trump adds that targets of possible retaliation have been identified “and I am ready and prepared to take whatever action is necessary.”

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9:15 p.m.

Some Syrians in the rebel-held provinces of Idlib and Aleppo have celebrated the targeted killing of a top Iranian general by distributing sweets.

Pictures posted on Twitter showed men with a tray bearing baklava and a card reading, “We congratulate the free people of Syria for the death of criminal Qassem Soleimani. May the pig Bashar be next.” The latter referred to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

At a refugee camp near the border with Turkey in Aleppo province, another group of men on Friday had a card saying “Thank You Trump” next to a tray of sweets set up for people to pick from. Soleimani was considered the architect of Iran’s deployment and policy in Syria, where he backed Syrian government troops in the nine-year conflict.

Iran dispatched advisers and supported Assad’s forces, turning the tide of the war in the last few years and pushing out armed opposition from key areas.

The U.S. attack at Baghdad’s international airport received a different reaction in Pakistan, where protesters in several cities burned American flags to oppose Suleimani’s killing. The demonstrations were organized by the country’s minority Shiite Muslims.

Shite cleric Nasir Abbas Jaffari said at one of the protests: “This was a cowardly attack, and the world knows that America is a terrorist state.”

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8:15 p.m.

Former Afghan President Hamed Karzai has condemned the U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed the general who led Iran’s elite Quds Force.

In a statement late Friday, Karzai said the targeted attack at Baghdad International Airport violated international laws and risked regional peace and stability.

He also offered condolences to the Iranian government, saying he did not want the strike to hurt Afghanistan’s relations with Iran even as 13,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan.

Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah also expressed condolences to the Iranian government.

Earlier Friday, Iraq’s outgoing prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahd, and the leader of Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Abdul-Malek al-Houthi, both condemned the deaths of Soleimani and an Iraqi official who was also killed in the U.S. strike.

Abdul-Mahdi said Friday that both men were “major symbols in achieving victory against” Islamic State group militants. A statement posted on the Houthi rebels’ official news site hailed the two as “martyrs” and vowed that “their blood will not go in vain.”

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8:00 p.m.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed a Swiss envoy to whom it gave a letter to pass onto the United States has been summoned for a second time after a U.S. airstrike killed Iran’s top military commander in Baghdad.

State-run IRNA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi commenting on the first communication and saying “the proper response to the U.S. message was delivered” to the Swiss envoy, who represents U.S. interests in Iran.

Calls for restraint came from around the world Friday in reaction to the U.S. strike and Iran’s supreme leader vowing a “harsh retaliation.”

Saudi Arabia, which is Iran’s top regional rival, added its voice of caution on Friday night. Its Foreign Ministry said in light of the rapid developments in the Mideast, the kingdom “calls for the importance of self-restraint to ward off all acts that may lead to aggravating the situation with unbearable consequences.”

The statement further called on the international community “to ensure the stability of such a vital region to the entire world.”

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7:45 p.m.

Two Mideast airlines say they have suspended flights to and from Baghdad as the killing of Iran’s top general in a targeted U.S. airstrike in Iraq inflamed geopolitical tensions.

Jordan’s flagship carrier, Royal Jordanian, said in a statement Friday that it halted all service between Amman and Baghdad “in light of the security situation in the Iraqi capital and at Baghdad International Airport,” the target of the strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Gulf Air, the flag carrier of Bahrain, suspended flights to and from Bagdad and the city of Najaf in southcentral Iraq. The royal family of Bahrain has opposed Iran’s Shiite theocracy.

Royal Jordanian operates 18 weekly scheduled flights between Baghdad and Amman. The airline said its regularly scheduled flights to Najaf and the Iraqi cities of Basra, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah are operating as usual.

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7:10 p.m.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister has indirectly reacted on Twitter to U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweet about the Iranian military commander killed by a U.S. airstrike.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said Friday there are Americans and Europeans who owe their lives to Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani because of his efforts to defeat the Islamic State group.

Araghchi tweeted that the “American people would one day know how many lives General Soleimani has saved – including Americans and Europeans – by defeating Daesh (ISIS) in the Middle East.”

Trump tweeted earlier Friday that Soleimani “should have been taken out many years ago!” The president said the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force was “plotting to kill” many Americans when he died in the targeted strike.

Iran’s Araghchi suggested the plans in Washington were political, saying in his tweet that “Such reelection (mis)calculations will certainly lead to disaster.”

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7 p.m.

The U.N. secretary-general has urged leaders to “exercise maximum restraint” following the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top military commander.

Antonio Guterres stressed that “the world cannot afford another war in the Gulf,” U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement. Guterres “is deeply concerned with the recent escalation” in the region, Haq said.

The airstrike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport marked a major escalation in the conflict between the United States and Iran.

U.S. President Donald Trump says Soleimani was “plotting to kill” many Americans. Iran’s supreme leader has vowed “harsh retaliation.”

6:35 p.m.

Iran’s Supreme National Security Council says it has reached a decision on how to respond to the U.S. killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, but isn’t saying what the decision is.

The council’s brief statement after a special session Friday says it investigated “the different aspects of this incident and it is announcing that the United States of America is responsible for all consequences of this criminal adventure.”

Iran’s Supreme National Security Council formulates the country’s military and nuclear program strategy. However, any matter of state is finally decided by the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The U.S. has said the leader of the elite Quds Force was targeted near the Baghdad airport in response to “imminent threats to American lives.”

6 p.m.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry says the charge d’affaires of its embassy in Tehran was summoned Friday to be “informed of Iran’s position” after a U.S. airstrike killed Iran’s top military commander.

Switzerland represents the interests of the U.S. in Iran, offering a diplomatic channel between the two countries.

The Swiss statement gave no details about the meeting but said its charge d’affaires “in turn delivered the message of the United States.”

Switzerland also joined a growing number of countries urging both sides to avoid further escalation after the U.S. airstrike in Baghdad. Others including Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan have called for restraint, with Turkey’s foreign ministry warning that all sides would suffer otherwise.

That statement also said Turkey opposes foreign interventions, assassinations and sectarian conflict in the region, while Pakistan’s statement called for “respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

5:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump says the Iranian military commander who was killed by a U.S. airstrike in Iraq was “plotting to kill” many Americans.

In his first comments on the targeted killing of the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Trump says Gen. Qassem Soleimani was also responsible for killing and wounding “thousands” of Americans and many more in the region.

Trump adds that “he should have been taken out many years ago!”

The strike marked a major escalation in the conflict between Washington and Iran, and Iran vowed “harsh retaliation.”

Trump tweeted an American flag shortly before the Pentagon announced Soleimani’s killing. He also retweeted several security warnings issued by the State Department for Iraq. Hours after the airstrike, he tweeted an implicit criticism of his predecessors’ Iran policy, saying the country “never won a war, but never lost a negotiation!”

4:55 p.m.

Iran’s state television is reporting that 10 people were killed in the U.S. airstrike Friday morning and five of them were members of the Revolutionary Guard.

In addition to the head of the elite Quds Forces, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the report named another general, a colonel, a major and a captain with the guard.

The U.S. says that the airstrike was carried out to disrupt an “imminent” attack orchestrated by Soleimani. Iran’s supreme leader has vowed “harsh retaliation.”

4:10 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is asserting that the U.S. killed Iran’s top military commander to disrupt an “imminent” attack orchestrated by him.

Pompeo told CNN that Gen. Qassem Soleimani “was actively plotting in the region to take actions, the big action as he described it, that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk. We know it was imminent. This was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our decision-making process.”

The secretary of state did not say where or when the attack had been expected to take place. He told Fox that in the attack “there would have been many Muslims killed as well, Iraqis, people in other countries as well.”

Pompeo also told Fox that he hopes Iran “will see American resolve and that their decision will be to de-escalate, to take actions consistent with what normal nations do. And in the event that they do not, in the event they go the other direction, I know that President Trump and the entire United States government is prepared to respond appropriately.’’

3:50 p.m.

Anger at the United States and legal questions have followed the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top military commander.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a TV interview that there were no legal grounds for the strike. And U.N. human rights expert, Agnes Callamard, tweeted that the airstrike in Baghdad appeared to be “far more retaliatory for past acts than anticipatory for imminent self-defense.”

The U.S. has said Gen. Qassem Soleimani was targeted in response to “imminent threats to American lives.”

American experts say the legal justification for the killing of Soleimani is relatively straightforward under U.S. and international law. There is a well-established doctrine of “anticipatory self-defense” that has been used by Republican and Democratic presidents in recent decades, said Jeff Addicot, a law professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas.

The killing sparked anti-U.S. protests in Indian-controlled Kashmir and a comment by a senior Houthi rebel leader in Yemen that targeting U.S. military bases would be the quickest way to retaliate.

3:20 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is calling world leaders to explain and defend President Donald Trump’s decision to order an airstrike that killed Iran’s top military commander.

Before dawn in Washington on Friday, the State Department said Pompeo had spoken with the foreign ministers of Britain and Germany as well as China’s state councilor after Gen. Qassem Soleimani was killed near the airport in Baghdad.

In each call, Pompeo said the U.S. is committed to de-escalating tensions in the Middle East that have soared since an Iranian-backed militia killed an American contractor and the U.S. responded with strikes against it. That set off violent pro-Iran protests outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Iran’s supreme leader has vowed “harsh retaliation” for the latest U.S. airstrike.

3:10 p.m.

Israel’s prime minister has welcomed the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top general, saying President Donald Trump “deserves all the credit for acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively.”

Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday said Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, “is responsible for the death of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks.”

Israel has long viewed Iran as its greatest threat and has carried out airstrikes in recent years against Iran-backed forces in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Netanyahu said Israel “stands with the United States in its just struggle for peace, security and self-defense.”

Iran’s supreme leader has vowed “harsh retaliation” for the U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport.

2:50 p.m.

Calls for restraint are growing after a U.S. airstrike killed Iran’s top military commander in Baghdad and Iran’s supreme leader vowed a “harsh retaliation.”

A European Union top official is urging all parties involved to avoid further escalation “at all cost.” Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said the risk of the recent cycle of violence in Iraq “is a generalized flare-up of violence in the whole region.”

The minister of state for foreign affairs in the United Arab Emirates, which sits across the Persian Gulf from Iran, called for rational engagement and a “calm approach, free of emotion.” Anwar Gargash in a tweet added that the issues facing the region are in part due to a “lack of confidence” among the various stakeholders.

And Iraq’s President Barham Salih urged Iraqis to remain united to spare the country more violence after decades of bloodshed.

2:25 p.m.

Former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton is congratulating all involved for “eliminating” Iran’s top military commander.

In a Twitter post Friday, Bolton adds that “long in the making, this was a decisive blow against Iran’s malign Quds Force activities worldwide. Hope this is the first step to regime change in Tehran.”

Iran’s supreme leader has vowed “harsh retaliation” for the U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and the architect of Iran’s interventions across the Middle East.

2 p.m.

Germany’s defense ministry says its soldiers who help train local forces in Iraq have been ordered not to leave their bases following the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general in Baghdad.

Germany currently has 130 soldiers in Iraq. Defense ministry spokeswoman Christina Routsi said the troops “will have a restriction … no movement outside military facilities in Taji and Baghdad.”

Routsi said the training of Iraqi troops will continue.

Germany has a long-standing warning against travel to most of Iraq. On Friday it said the situation in the Middle East has reached “a dangerous escalation point” with the killing of elite Quds Force chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani and vows of retaliation from Iran.

1:45 p.m.

The British government is urging caution after a U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed Iran’s top military commander and says “further conflict is in none of our interests.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says that “we have always recognized the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qasem Soleimani.” The statement does not explicitly endorse or condemn the actions of the U.S., a major ally. Britain has traditionally supported U.S. actions in the Middle East.

Germany says the situation in the Middle East has reached “a dangerous escalation point” and that conflicts in the region can only be resolved diplomatically.

German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer characterized the U.S. move as “a reaction to a whole series of military provocations for which Iran bears responsibility,” pointing to attacks on tankers and a Saudi oil facility.

Meanwhile, U.S. embassies in the region are warning citizens to be aware of their surroundings. The U.S. Embassy in Kuwait says it will increase its security “out of an abundance of caution” but adds it is “not aware of specific, credible threats” against it.

1:20 p.m.

An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader is threatening U.S. troops in the Middle East and says “this is the time to clear the region from these insidious beasts.”

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami made the comment while leading Friday prayers in Tehran, just hours after a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad killed Iran’s top general. The hard-liner Khatami said Americans will never enjoy peace of mind again after the killing of elite Quds Force chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The cleric added: “I am telling Americans, especially Trump, we will take a revenge that will change their daylight into a nighttime darkness.”

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei later on Friday appointed Soleimani’s deputy, Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani as the new commander of the Revoluionary Guard’s Quds Force.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s most powerful Shiite religious leader called the U.S. attack, which also killed Iraqi officials, a ‘blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.” Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in a speech delivered during Friday prayers, said the country is expecting to face “very difficult times” and called for restraint from all sides.

12:55 p.m.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has condemned the killing of Iran’s top general in a U.S. airstrike at Baghdad’s airport and said it will increase tensions throughout the Middle East.

An unnamed diplomat in the ministry told Russia’s state-run news agency TASS they consider the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani “an adventurist step.”

The head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s upper parliament house called the U.S. airstrike “a mistake” that could “boomerang on its organizers.” Konstantin Kosachev in a Facebook post Friday said the move destroyed the last hope to resolve the issues around the Iran nuclear deal.

And “Iran may accelerate making a nuclear weapon now, even if it didn’t plan on doing it before,” Kosachev said.

12:40 p.m.

China says it is “highly concerned” and calls for all sides, especially the United States, to exercise “calm and restraint” after a U.S. airstrike killed Iran’s top general in Baghdad.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Friday that China is calling for peace and stability in the Middle East as well as respect for Iraq’s independence and territorial integrity.

The spokesman added that “China has always opposed the use of force in international relations” and warned against the further escalation of tensions.

China is a close Iranian ally and has been among the most active countries in defying U.S. attempts to isolate Iran and cripple its economy. Last month, its navy joined with those of Iran and Russia in first-ever joint drills in the Indian Ocean.

China is also a staunch opponent of the U.S. presence in Iraq.

12:25 p.m.

Iraq’s deputy parliament speaker says an emergency parliament session is set for Saturday to discuss the U.S. airstrike in Baghdad that killed Iran’s top military commander and Iraqi officials.

Hassan al-Kaabi says it is time to put an end to “U.S. recklessness and arrogance,” adding that Saturday’s session will be dedicated to taking “decisive decisions that put an end to U.S. presence inside Iraq.”

The outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi had called for an emergency session, saying the U.S. presence in Iraq is limited to training forces to fight terrorism. He described the attack that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani and the Iraqi officials a “violation” of conditions for the U.S. troop presence.

12:05 p.m.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office says he is cutting short a visit to Greece and returning home to follow “ongoing developments” after a U.S. airstrike killed Iran’s top general.

The Israeli army has ordered a ski resort on Mount Hermon, on the Israel-controlled Golan Heights, to close. It took no other immediate precautions.

Yair Lapid, a leader of the opposition Blue and White Party, praised the killing and said Gen. Qassem Soleimani got “exactly what he deserved.”

The head of Iran’s elite Quds Force topped Israel’s list of threats, accused of masterminding a network of enemies that included the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon. Israel has struck Quds Force targets in Syria on several occasions.

Yoel Guzansky, an expert on Iran at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Strategic Studies, said Iranian retaliation against U.S. or Israeli targets was likely in the short term. Guzansky said the killing struck a huge blow to Iran and restored American deterrence in the region.

11:50 a.m.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has called the killing of the country’s Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani by the U.S. a “heinous crime.”

Rouhani said in a tweet on Friday that “the great nation of Iran will take revenge” for the U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport.

Iran’s president added that “the path of resistance to U.S. excesses will continue.”

The targeted killing could draw forceful Iranian retaliation against American interests in the region and spiral into a far larger conflict.

The state-run IRNA news agency also published a Rouhani statement saying the U.S. violated all human rights and international law.

11:30 a.m.

The United States is urging U.S. citizens to leave Iraq “immediately.”

A State Department statement on Friday cites “heightened tensions in Iraq and the region.” Iran has vowed “harsh retaliation” after a U.S. airstrike killed Iran’s top military commander in Baghdad.

The State Department adds that “due to Iranian-backed militia attacks at the U.S. Embassy compound, all consular operations are suspended. U.S. citizens should not approach the Embassy.”

That comes after a crowd attacked the embassy earlier this week to protest U.S. airstrikes against a militia supported by Iran.

11:20 a.m.

Iraq’s outgoing prime minister has sharply condemned the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top military commander and a senior Iraqi official in Baghdad and called for an emergency parliament session to take “necessary and appropriate measures to protect Iraq’s dignity, security and sovereignty.”

Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said Friday the men killed were “major symbols in achieving victory against” Islamic State group militants. He called the attack that killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis an “aggression against Iraq.”

“Liquidation operations (assassinations) of leading Iraqi officials or from a friendly country on Iraqi soil is a brazen violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and blatant attack on the nation’s dignity,” Abdul-Mahdi said.

He called the attack “a dangerous escalation” that is set to ignite a destructive war in Iraq and the region. He added it is also an “obvious violation of the conditions of U.S. troop presence in Iraq, which is limited to training Iraqi forces” to fight IS militants.

11:10 a.m.

The head of Iran’s parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy has threatened U.S. forces in the Middle East during an interview on state television.

Hard-line lawmaker and cleric Mojtaba Zolnouri made the threat Friday after a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani.

Zolnouri told state TV: “When the U.S. is killing Iranian forces outside of Iran, the U.S. must see its troops killed at its bases in the region.”

A senior Revolutionary Guard commander, Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi, said that “the White House must leave the region today or it must go to the market to order caskets for soldiers.” The general added: “We don’t want bloodshed. They have to choose by themselves.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned that a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the U.S. And Iran’s cabinet spokesman, Ali Rabiei, said in a tweet that Iran’s severe response won’t be far away.

10:45 a.m.

Syria has strongly condemned what it calls “treacherous American criminal aggression” that killed Iran’s top general and others, warning that it constitutes a “dangerous escalation” in the region.

The U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Soleimani was considered the architect of Iran’s policy in Syria.

The Syrian foreign ministry says the attack reaffirms the U.S. responsibility for the instability in Iraq as part of its policy to “create tensions and fuel conflicts in the countries of the region.”

The statement says the attack will only strengthen the resolve to continue down the path set “by the martyred leaders of the resistance against American interference in the affairs of the countries of the region.”

10:25 a.m.

Iran’s foreign minister says the U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport that killed Iran’s top general “without any doubt is an act of state terrorism.”

Mohammad Javad Zarif also calls the airstrike a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.

“Perhaps America’s action was a response to the pain that this great man had inflicted on them,” Zarif said of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

The killing will make Iran’s people more united and “will also make U.S. policies more scandalous and less effective than before,” he said.

The targeted killing could draw forceful Iranian retaliation against American interests in the region and spiral into a far larger conflict.

3 a.m.

The United States has killed Iran’s top general in an airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport, an attack that threatens to dramatically ratchet up tensions in the region. The targeted killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, could draw forceful Iranian retaliation against American interests in the region and spiral into a far larger conflict.

The Defense Department says it killed Soleimani because he “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” An adviser to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is warning U.S. President Donald Trump of retaliation.

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