coronavirus, Soleimani Asssassination: Pompeo defends Trump before House Democrats

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo defends President Trump's decision to order the assassination of Iran's IRGC Commander Qaseem Solemani in a tense House panel hearing.

Pompeo who was grilled on Friday by Democrats on a House panel over the United States killing of Top Iranian Genera and the US response to the coronavirus defended the US president who last Month was bailed out from the house impeachment by the US senate dominated by the Republicans.

While appearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee for two hours, US secretary defended President's decision to order the assassination of the second most powerful man in Iran after the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali K., claiming Americans in the Middle East are safer now because Iran has been deterred from aggression.

Speaking before the committee, Pompeo said, "we made clear that we are willing and able to impose costs on our adversaries if they threaten or attack us," Pompeo told the committee in the long-awaited hearing that also included a number of questions on the coronavirus.

President Trump on different occasions has offered an inconsistent explanations for the air strike that terminated Soleimani and many others at the airport in Baghdad, Iraq.Trump and his advisers had initially said they had information that Soleimani was planning an "imminent attack". Soon in a legally mandated report to Congress, the Trump administration abandoned that claim and argued prior attacks planned by Soleimani against US forces, coupled with rising provocations from Iranian-backed armed groups in Iraq justified the strike.

"One hundred percent in a very short timeframe, he was in the region actively plotting to kill Americans," said Pompeo, who appealed to the fractious committee on Friday for support for Trump's policy towards Iran.

Two Democratic members of the House of Representatives Abigail Spanberger and Joaquin Castro said the intelligence information provided by the administration to Congress behind closed doors in the days after the strike did not show an imminent threat.

"I have seen that classified information and after reviewing it, I don't think that you are telling us the truth," Castro told Pompeo pointedly.

Spanberger said: "Your own report directly contradicts what you and the president told the American people over and over. "With conflicting information, it is hard for the American people to know what to believe."

Mike Pompeo dismissed the accusations and argued Soleimani's role as head of Iran's Quds Force tied him to the deaths and injuries of as many as 600 US troops during the Iraq war.

"We conducted this attack fully inside our constitutional and statutory authority and the action the president took was fully lawful," Pompeo said. "We had communicated clearly that the loss of American lives would incur real consequences," he added.

President Trump has pursued a "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran designed to confront Iranian influence in the region and weaken its economy through sanctions after unilaterally pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018.

Soleimani assassination has only compounded US problems in the middle east, starting with an unprecedented missile strikes retaliation from the Iran against the US bases in Iraq with more that hundred American forces that suffered brain injury.

Iraqi parliament also voted that the US and coalition forces should be removed and vacate Iraq with many other pro-Iranian militias threatening to unleash terror on American forces in the region.  

Coronavirus fears

Pompeo was also peppered with questions from Democrats about the rising fears in the US of the coronavirus outbreak. The first case of local infection of an American who had not travelled to or been in contact with someone that had travelled to China, where the virus originated, was identified in California on Wednesday.

Trump has come under pressure by Democrats to take greater action against the virus. Earlier this week, Trump attempted to quell fears and appointed Mike Pence to oversee the federal government's effort to contain the virus - a move Democrats criticised, citing the vice president's lack of expertise on public health issues.

"Arrogance. Arrogance," said Representative David Trone, a Democrat. "The administration's track record of mishandling crises doesn't inspire confidence."

Democratic Representative Ted Deutch also criticised the administration, saying that Trump's "pattern of misinformation undermines our entire system".

COVID-19, the formal name for the illness caused by a new SARS-like coronavirus, emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December. More than 83,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide and more than 2,800 people have died as a result of the virus, the majority of whom were in China. 

No deaths linked to the virus have been reported in the US.

Health officials in California, which has a population of 40 million, are monitoring 8,400 people for potential infection, the state's governor said on Thursday. Testing has been limited because test kits initially provided to the state by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were faulty.

Pompeo defended the Trump administration's response to the virus, saying the US has made offers to help Iran, which has been hit hard by the outbreak.

"We have made offers to the Islamic Republic of Iran to help, and we've made clear to others around the world and the region that assistance, humanitarian assistance to push back against the coronavirus in Iran is something the United States of America fully supports. We will continue to support. That's true for every nation," Pompeo said.

Earlier Pompeo tweeted:

I’m deeply concerned by the spread of #coronavirus in #Iran and the public health risk to the Iranian people and their neighbors. The U.S. offers our humanitarian assistance to the people of Iran to help unmet needs in their response efforts.

Later on Friday, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman reportedly said that any US offer to help Iran in its fight against the coronavirus was "ridiculous".

"The claim to help Iran in dealing with corona from a country who with their economic terrorism has created widespread pressure for the people of Iran and even closed the paths for buying medicine and medical equipment is a ridiculous claim and political-psychological game," Abbas Mousavi was quoted by Iran's semiofficial Mehr news agency as saying.

Up to Seven top Iranian government officers and members of Parliament have been tested positive of the China deadly virus as more that a dozen deaths have been recorded.

(with Ajazeera)

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