Cowardly assassination of Gen Soleimani pushed Iran, US very close to war: Zarif

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says the United States’ “cowardly” assassination last month of senior Iranian anti-terror commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani pushed Washington and Tehran “very close” to war.

Zarif made the remarks in an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Richard Engel in Munich on Friday on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

“We were very close to a war because the United States initiated an act of aggression against Iran in a very, excuse the language, cowardly way,” he said.

“They couldn’t confront [General] Soleimani in the battlefield so they hit him during the dark of night through a drone attack on a car carrying him on a peace mission, which is beneath any dignified way of dealing with this,” he added.

The terrorist US forces assassinated General Soleimani, the former commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) or Hashed al-Sha’abi counterterrorism fighting force, and their companions by targeting them near Baghdad International Airport on January 3.

General Soleimani has earned reputation as the Middle East’s most decisive and respected counterterrorism commander. During his lifetime, he provided indispensable contribution to fighting terrorism across the region, including by effectively assisting Iraq and Syria in defeating the Takfiri terror group of Daesh in late 2017.

He was on an official visit to the Iraqi capital when the assassination took place.

The IRGC shortly unleashed volleys of ballistic missiles at the US’s Ain al-Assad airbase in Iraq’s Anbar Province, and another American outpost in the northern Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei later described the retaliatory strikes as “only a slap.”

Zarif said US President Donald Trump — who had directly ordered the assassination — was “misled” to believe that the United States would get away with the act of aggression and that the atrocity would work to boost the US’s security.

However, “it worked the other way around,” and Iran’s proportionate response targeted Ain al-Assad, “the [very] base, from which the operations against [General] Soleimani were carried out,” the foreign minister noted.

“We wanted to show to the United States that they cannot bully Iran…that actions against Iran will have repercussions,” Zarif said.

“It was the beginning of the end of the US in the region,” he added.

Following the assassinations, the Iraqi parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill mandating the expulsion of all US-led forces from the Arab country’s. Former caretaker prime minis

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