'I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies'
Seeking to explain US President Donald Trump’s claim that Iran was planning attacks on four American embassies before the US killed Iranian General Qassem Suleimani in a drone strike, Defence Secretary Mike Esper found himself in the dangerous position of contradicting the president.
Asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” if there had been a specific or tangible threat, Esper said: “I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies.”
While Esper said he agreed with Trump that additional attacks against US embassies were likely, he said that Trump's remarks to Fox News were not based on specific evidence on an attack on four embassies.
"What the president said was that there probably could be additional attacks against embassies. I shared that view," Esper said. "The president didn't cite a specific piece of evidence."
Since confirming that Soleimani had been killed by a US airstrike in Baghdad, administration officials have claimed they acted because of an imminent risk of attacks on American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.
Democrats and a few Republicans in Congress have questioned the justification of the attacks and said they have not been given adequate, detailed briefings.
Trump said on Friday Iran probably had targeted the US embassy in Baghdad and was aiming to attack four US embassies before Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike on January 3.
“We will tell you probably it was going to be the embassy in Baghdad,” Trump said in a clip of an interview on Fox News. “I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies.”
'Clerics get lost!'
Protesters denouncing Iran's clerical rulers took to the streets and riot police deployed to face them yesterday, in a third day of demonstrations after authorities acknowledged shooting down a passenger plane by accident.
Demonstrations at home - some apparently met by a violent crackdown - have become the latest consequence of one of the most destabilizing escalations between the United States and Iran since the Iranian revolution of 1979.
Video from inside Iran showed students yesterday chanting slogans including "Clerics get lost!" outside universities in the city of Isfahan and in Tehran, where riot police were filmed taking up positions on the streets of the capital.
Tehran police deny firing
Images emerged from the previous two days of protests showing wounded people being carried and pools of blood on the ground, while the sound of gunfire could be heard. Authorities denied that police had opened fire.
Tehran has acknowledged shooting down the Ukrainian jetliner by mistake on Wednesday, killing 176 people, hours after it had fired at US targets in Iraq to retaliate for the killing of Soleimani.
Iran denies 'cover-up'
Tehran denied a "cover-up" after it took days for the armed forces to admit the Ukrainian airliner was shot down by mistake.
"In these sorrowful days, many criticisms were directed at relevant officials and authorities ... some officials were even accused of lying and a cover-up but, in all honesty, that was not the case," spokesman Ali Rabiei said in remarks aired on state television.
UK summons Iranian ambassador
Britain has summoned the Iranian ambassador to the country to convey its strong objections to the brief arrest of London's envoy to Tehran on Saturday, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
"This was an unacceptable breach of the Vienna Convention and it needs to be investigated," the spokesman said. "We are seeking full assurances from the Iranian government that this will never happen again.
Macron: France, Russia, want to safeguard nuclear deal
France and Russia have a shared desire to safeguard Iran's nuclear deal, French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement following a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Leaders of Britain, France and Germany on Sunday called on Iran to return to full compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and refrain from further violence.