'We're not going to cut and run': National security adviser on embassy threats

Trump said the "imminent" threat included plans targeting against four embassies

January 12, 2020, 12:06 PM

The White House national security adviser said Sunday that the U.S. wasn't going to "cut and run" when ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos pressed him on why the U.S. did not evacuate its embassies after President Donald Trump revealed that Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani had been planning to attack "four embassies."

"We're not going to cut and run every time someone threatens us," national security adviser Robert O'Brien said on ABC's "This Week," citing reinforcements to the embassy in Baghdad, which occurred following attempts by protesters to storm the U.S. compound at the end of 2019, but before the U.S. drone attack on Soleimani.

"We're not going to have another Benghazi," he added. "We're not going to have another Tehran embassy takeover where our diplomats are taken hostage."

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told a small group of reporters on Jan. 3 thatthe trigger for the drone strike that killed Soleimani, the leader of Iran's elite Quds Force, was "clear, unambiguous intelligence indicating a significant campaign of violence against the United States in the days, weeks, and months," and that the administration would have been "culpably negligent" if it didn't act.

Since the strike on Soleimani, the president has said the "imminent" threat that Soleimani posed included attacks on U.S. embassies. He specified to Fox News on Friday that the plans targeted "four embassies."

National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, listens as President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the White House on the ballistic missile strike that Iran launched against Iraqi air bases housing U.S. troops in Washington, Jan. 8, 2020.
Alex Brandon/AP, FILE

The White House briefed members of Congress on Wednesday. While some lawmakers were satisfied with the briefing -- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch called it "one of the best briefings I've had," -- others, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee criticized it.

"Drive-by notification or after-the-fact lame briefings like the one we just received aren't adequate," Lee told reporters.

Several Democrats, including presidential candidate and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, said that they believed the briefing did not address the president's claim that Soleimani was planning to attack U.S. embassies.

O'Brien said on "This Week" that he would love to release the intelligence behind the Soleimani attack, but that not doing so was to protect U.S. interests.

"Rather than have a short-term political win, release the intelligence and say I told you so, we want to keep the American people safe going forward," he said.

Iran responded to Soleimani's killing by firing multiple missiles at two Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops on Tuesday.

On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced new sanctions on Iran targeting the country's steel and iron industry, eight Iranian security officials and three Chinese companies that have traded Iranian metals.

O'Brien said Sunday that he thought the Iranian regime was "having a very bad week," citing the accidental downing of a Ukrainian plane and offered the president's sympathies to the victims' families.

"This is a regime that's reeling from maximum pressure, they're reeling from their incompetence in this situation and the people of Iran are just fed up with it," he said.

When Stephanopoulos asked O'Brien if the U.S. supported regime change in Iran, the national security adviser said that's "never been" the Trump administration's policy, but that it supports human rights.

"The best thing we can do for the Iranian people and for the world is to continue our maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Iranian regime never obtains a nuclear weapon, stops their terrorist activities in the region and cuts back on their ballistic missile program," he added.

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