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Trump Vows Possible Disproportionate Strikes on Iran Targets

Laura Litvan and Danielle Moran

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump told U.S. lawmakers on Sunday he was prepared to strike Iran “in a disproportionate manner” if the Islamic Republic hits any U.S. target, and that his Twitter posts are sufficient to notify Congress of his intentions.

The Democratic-led House Foreign Affairs Committee responded within hours with a tweet of its own that mirrored the president’s language and reminded Trump that “you’re not a dictator.”

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said earlier there were no doubts within the Trump administration about the intelligence behind the decision to kill a top Iranian general last week, and that any moves taken by the U.S. against Tehran will be “lawful.”

“We’ll behave inside the system,” Pompeo said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, one of six appearances on political talk shows.

Pompeo spoke days after the U.S. killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, and hours after sharply ratcheted up his rhetoric against the Islamic Republic and after saying on Friday that the U.S. wasn’t seeking to start a war.

Fallout from Soleimani’s targeted killing widened on Sunday. An Iranian military adviser warned of retaliation against U.S. military sites, Iraqi lawmakers voted to expel U.S. forces, and Tehran said it was no longer bound by the terms of the 2015 multilateral nuclear pact.

Iraqi Parliament Asks Government to End Foreign Troop Presence

The knock-on affects of the U.S. move continued to build on Sunday as Iraq’s parliament asked the government to work toward ending the presence of foreign forces in its territory, SkyNews Arabia reported. Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Pompeo insisted U.S. troops will remain in Iraq.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Pompeo was pressed about administration claims that an attack orchestrated by Soleimani against U.S. interests had been “imminent” -- the rationale behind the deadly drone strike on the general as he was driven on an access road leaving Baghdad International Airport.

‘Not Relevant’

It was “not relevant” whether such an attack was days or weeks away, Pompeo said, adding that the U.S. needed to protect its intelligence “sources and methods.”

The New York Times reported on Saturday that Pentagon officials had been “stunned” that Trump chose to kill Soleimani, the most extreme option of several courses of action offered to the president.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said administration officials had “provided no evidence” of an imminent threat when they briefed congressional aides on Friday.

“Everybody knows that Soleimani was a very bad, despicable guy,” he said on Fox. “We don’t go around killing all the bad people in the world.”

Pompeo was asked about Trump’s threat on Saturday to hit “52 Iranian sites,” including cultural targets, if Tehran retaliates for Soleimani’s killing, as it has promised. The tweet raised concerns because attacks against cultural property are prohibited under the Geneva Convention and the U.S. Defense Department’s rules of engagement.

“I’ve seen what we’re planning,” Pompeo said on ABC. Every target “is lawful.”

On CNN, though, Pompeo wouldn’t specifically commit to not targeting cultural centers, and said Trump’s tweet referencing such targets in Iran didn’t deviate “one iota” from the rule of law.

“We will respond with great force and great vigor if the Iranian leadership makes a bad decision. We hope that they won’t,” Pompeo said.

Before Trump’s tweets, sent from his Florida resort and which continued until the early hours of Sunday, Pompeo had stressed that the U.S. was committed to de-escalating tensions with Iran in a series of phone calls with his counterparts in Middle East and elsewhere.

Read more: Trump Ramps Up Iran Rhetoric as Thousands Hit Streets

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, defended Trump’s actions and his ramped-up Twitter threats against Iran.

“This president has shown -- he’s not getting enough credit for it -- tremendous restraint,” Rubio said in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Asked whether the administration had articulated evidence to Congress of a clear, imminent threat to the U.S. immediately before the Baghdad airstrike, Rubio responded: “I understand it, and it’s called self defense.” On Thursday Rubio tweeted, without evidence, that Iran’s Soleimani had been “plotting a coup in Iraq.”

Senior Pentagon officials briefed staff members from the House Armed Service Committee and Senate Armed Service Committee on Friday about recent threats and attacks on U.S. personnel and interests, including the 11 attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq since October and attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Dec. 27.

Pompeo said more congressional briefings would come this week. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on ABC that that the White House’s formal notice to Congress on the Soleimani hit, delivered on Saturday, had been “very unsatisfying” on the reasoning behind the strike.

“I think Congress, and I will do everything I can to assert our authority,” Schumer said. “We do not need this president either bumbling or impulsively getting us into a major war.”

A top Iranian military adviser said Sunday that Tehran’s response to Soleimani’s killing would be focused on U.S. military sites.

“It might be argued that there could be proxy operations. We can say America, Mr. Trump, has taken action directly against us -- so we take direct action against America,” Iranian Major General Hossein Dehghan, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader, told SNN.

On Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump’s classified War Powers Act notification “raises more questions than it answers” and “prompts serious and urgent questions about the timing, manner and justification of the Administration’s decision.” The U.S. response, Pelosi said, was “provocative, escalatory and disproportionate.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, said the U.S. is already seeing significant national security setbacks after Soleimani’s killing.

He pointed to a call Sunday by Iraq’s prime minister to expel U.S. troops from their country. Also on Sunday, the U.S.-led joint task force against Islamic State has suspended operations against the terror group in Iraq to focus on protecting bases that have recently come under attack.

“That’s going to impede our fight against ISIS,” Schiff said on CNN. “That would be a real coup for Iran, to force the United States out of Iraq. We’re going to have to take our eye off the ball when it comes to fighting ISIS in Syria, because we’re not going to be able to, I think, protect a small number of forces there.”

(Updates with House Foreign Affairs tweet in second paragraph.)

--With assistance from Steve Geimann, Tony Capaccio and Billy House.

To contact the reporters on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net;Danielle Moran in New York at dmoran21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net, Ros Krasny, Steve Geimann

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