Washington: US Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday said that he shared President Donald Trump and his national security team's view that the Iranians were planning to attack American embassies in the Gulf, even though he did not see specific intelligence suggesting that.
"I didn't see one (intelligence) with regard to four embassies. What I'm saying is I share(d) the president's view," the Defense Secretary said during CBS's "Face The Nation."
He was responding to a question on President Donald Trump's comment to Fox News early this week that Iran's General Qassem Soleimani was plotting against four US embassies before he was killed in American air strikes in Baghdad early in the month.
"There was intelligence that there was intent to target the US Embassy in Baghdad," he told CNN in another interview.
"What the president said with regard to the four embassies is what I believe as well. He (Trump) believed... they could have been targeting the embassies in the region. I believe that as well, as did other national security team members," Esper said.
That is why the US deployed thousands of additional paratroopers to the region to reinforce its embassy in Baghdad and to reinforce in other locations throughout the region, said the former US Secretary of the Army.
"What the president said was, he believed. All those things that I believe as well, that the national security team believes as well. The important thing is this. Soleimani orchestrated, resourced, directed the attacks, escalating up to December 1, that killed an American," Esper said.
"He orchestrated the siege on the US Embassy in Baghdad, and he was planning this much broader plot in multiple countries that would be bigger in scale, and that likely would have taken us to open hostility with Iran. In fact, a very, very senior intelligence community official said to us that the risk of inaction is greater than risk of action. To me, that is very compelling," said the US Defense Secretary.
In response to another question, Esper said there was evidence that part of the attack would be against the United States Embassy in Baghdad.
When asked about the four other embassies, he said, "I'm not going to discuss intelligence. What the president said was, he believed it probably could have been. He didn't cite intelligence."
"He was orchestrating an attack, likely, include an attack on the United States Embassy," he added.
Alleging that Iran has been attacking the United States through its proxy militias for 40 years now, Esper said last summer the US had to deploy 14,000 additional soldiers to the region since May.
"They shot down an armed drone. They were striking Saudi Aramco oil fields in the fall. They were seizing tankers. The scale and scope of attacks against our forces in late fall had escalated considerably," he said.
Esper said the United States is safer today than it was just a few weeks ago.
"Why? Because we eliminated the world's foremost terrorist, Qasem Soleimani, who had the blood of hundreds of American service members on his hands," he said.
"Secondly, we restored deterrence with Iran. And we did so without American casualties. Third we reassured our friends and allies in the region that the United States will stand up and defend our interests. And I want to thank all of our brave service members who are deployed for what they did, for their brilliance in executing this very important mission," he said.