Donald Trump has warned Tehran that he will order severe military action against Iran if it assassinates a US diplomat in retaliation for the American killing of a top Iranian general.
The US president issued the dramatic warning a day after the news site Politico reported Iran was considering killing Lana Marks, the American ambassador to South Africa. Politico said any Iranian move would be retaliation for the US assassination in January of Qassem Soleimani, who was Iran’s most powerful military commander. The report was not confirmed by other major US news organisations.
In a late-night tweet on Monday, Mr Trump said that “according to press reports Iran may be planning an assassination, or other attack, against the United States in retaliation for the killing of terrorist leader Soleimani”.
He added: “Any attack by Iran, in any form, against the United States will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!”
Ali Rabiei, Iran’s government spokesman, on Tuesday dismissed Mr Trump’s threat as “propaganda”. He warned the US leader against making a “strategic mistake” and said Iran would respond if he did. He added that the death of Soleimani had been an “ignominy” for the US and would not be forgotten by Iranians.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment about whether US intelligence thought Iran was considering an assassination. Speaking on Tuesday, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo did not comment on the specific allegations, but he said Iran had conducted assassination campaigns around the world.
Mr Trump issued the warning as he campaigned for re-election against Joe Biden, the former US vice-president and his Democratic opponent, in November.
Tensions with Iran soared in January after the US assassinated Soleimani. Concerns that the killing would escalate into full-scale war increased after Iran responded to the assassination by launching attacks on US forces in Iraq.
After initially suggesting that he would use “disproportionate” force against Iranian retaliation, Mr Trump responded to the attacks on a US base in Iraq by threatening to impose more economic sanctions on Tehran.
Tensions remain high even though the threat of war has subsided, particularly as Washington has ratcheted up a campaign to punish Iran after Mr Trump’s 2018 decision to withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration and European allies with Tehran.
Mr Pompeo last month accused European nations that were part of the Iran deal — France, Germany and the UK — and the EU of siding “with the ayatollahs” for opposing the US push to reimpose international sanctions on the Islamic republic.
Mr Trump has made the case during his re-election campaign that he followed through on his 2016 pledge to withdraw from the nuclear deal, which was signed when Mr Biden was US vice-president.
Mr Biden has accused Mr Trump of increasing tension with Iran and “risking bringing us closer to another Middle Eastern war without a realistic strategy or endgame”.
In a comment piece published by CNN on Sunday, he said the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran had been a “boon to the regime in Iran and a bust for America’s interests”.
Additional reporting by Monavar Khalaj in Tehran and Katrina Manson in Washington
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