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Trump defense chief: US not seeking war with Iran but 'prepared to finish one'

Trump defense chief: US not seeking war with Iran but 'prepared to finish one'
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Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Former Navy secretary reportedly spent .4M on travel | Ex-Pentagon chief Miller to testify on Jan. 6 Capitol attack | Austin to deliver West Point commencement speech Trump's Navy secretary spent over M on travel during pandemic: report Court declines to dismiss Amazon challenge against JEDI decision MORE on Tuesday said that the United States is not looking to start a war with Iran but is “prepared to finish one.”

“The United States is not seeking a war with Iran, but we are prepared to finish one. We are seeking a diplomatic solution, but first this will require Iran to de-escalate. It will require the regime to come to the table with the goal of preventing further bloodshed,” Esper told reporters at the Pentagon. 

“We are open to having this discussion with them, but we are just as prepared to deliver a forceful response to defend our interests,” he added. “The architects of terror should know that we will not tolerate attacks against America’s people and interests and will exercise our right to self-defense should that become necessary once again.”

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Esper’s comments come after last week’s order from President TrumpDonald TrumpCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Overnight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections Overnight Defense: US fires 30 warning shots at Iranian boats | Kabul attack heightens fears of Afghan women's fates | Democratic Party leaders push Biden on rejoining Iran deal MORE to launch a drone strike that killed top Iranian official Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the elite Quds Force. 

Trump administration officials have said the strike was meant to prevent an "imminent" attack in the region but have provided no evidence.

Esper would not give details of such intelligence to reporters and would say only that an attack from Soleimani was assessed at being “days away.”

“He was a legitimate target, and his time was due,” Esper said.

The Pentagon chief also said U.S. forces would not withdraw from Iraq after the country's parliament voted over the weekend to push American troops out of the country.

“To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t seen any communication from [the Iraqi prime minister] or the Iraqi government about the legislation or about an order or a request to withdraw U.S. forces,” Esper said.

He said that since the strike on Soleimani, he has spoken with commanders on the ground in the region “to ensure they have the resources they need to protect their people and prepare for any contingencies. As a result we’ve increased our force protection postures across the region and will continue to reposition and bolster our forces as necessary.”