The Trump administration's story that it killed a top Iranian military leader to stop an "imminent" attack on America has been called into question once again.

Last week, the US President said Iran was ready to attack four American embassies before General Qassem Soleimani was killed a drone attack on January 3.

But on Sunday, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said he was not privy to specific evidence Iran was planning an imminent attack.

"What the President said was that there probably could be additional attacks against embassies. I shared that view," Mr Esper said. "The President didn't cite a specific piece of evidence."

Advertisement

Asked whether there was concrete evidence on that point, he said: "I didn't see one with regards to four embassies."

NBC News has since reported, citing five senior administration officials, that Mr Trump had authorised the killing of Soleimani seven months ago.

One of the conditions was that the President would have final sign-off on any operation to kill the Iranian commander, and it would only be used if an American was killed by Iran.

Then-White House national security adviser John Bolton urged Mr Trump to authorise the killing of Soleimani as a revenge attack for the drone downing, NBC reported.

The timing of the attack may be a big hole in the Trump administration's story behind the killing.

Officials claimed Soleimani was planning imminent attacks on Americans and had to be stopped. Photo / AP
Officials claimed Soleimani was planning imminent attacks on Americans and had to be stopped. Photo / AP

Officials claimed Soleimani was planning imminent attacks on Americans and had to be stopped.

On Sunday, The Washington Post reported that Mr Trump had "floated the possibility" of killing Soleimani as far back as May 2017 after Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen shot a missile at Riyadh moments after Mr Trump arrived in the country. No action was taken.

Two Republican politicians sharply criticised the Trump administration in the aftermath of Soleimani's killing.

Advertisement

"It was probably the worst briefing I've seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I've served in the United States Senate," said Republican Senator for Utah Mike Lee.

He said he left the briefing "somewhat unsatisfied" with the explanation for the assassination.

"I find this insulting and demeaning … to the office that each of the 100 senators in this building happens to hold," he said. "I find it insulting and demeaning to the Constitution of the United States."

Fellow Republican Senator Rand Paul agreed, saying: "I see no way in the world you could logically argue that an authorisation to have war with Saddam Hussein has anything to with having war with people currently in Iraq."

He also said using the 2002 authorisation to justify the strike that killed Soleimani in Baghdad was "absurd" and an "insult".

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

The Trump administration announced on Friday additional economic sanctions on Iran that will "cut off billions of dollars of support to the Iranian regime".

Speaking in the White House press briefing room, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Mr Trump was issuing an executive order authorising sanctions against "any individual owning, operating, trading with or assisting sectors of the Iranian economy, including construction, manufacturing, textiles and mining".

He also outlined 17 specific sanctions against Iran's largest steel and iron manufacturers, along with three entities based in the Seychelles and a vessel involved in the transfer of products.

Earlier, Iran issued a threat to the US, vowing "harsher revenge" for Soleimani's assassination.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned of a "very dangerous response" if the US makes "another mistake".

The Trump administration announced on Friday additional economic sanctions on Iran that will 'cut off billions of dollars of support to the Iranian regime'. Photo / AP
The Trump administration announced on Friday additional economic sanctions on Iran that will 'cut off billions of dollars of support to the Iranian regime'. Photo / AP

At the same time, several senior Iranian military commanders warned the US not to underestimate Iran's ability to strike again.

Abdollah Araghi, a member of Iran's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Revolutionary Guard "will impose a harsher revenge on the enemy in the near future", according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Tasnim also quoted General Ali Fadavi, the acting commander of the Guard, as saying the missile attack was "just one of the manifestations of our abilities".

"We sent dozens of missiles into the heart of the US bases in Iraq and they couldn't do a damned thing," he was quoted as saying.

READ MORE:
Slain Iran general Qassem Soleimani's successor and daughter warn US troops
Body of Qassem Soleimani, top general killed in drone strike, arrives in Iran
How Donald Trump was goaded into killing Iranian general Qassem Soleimani
Iran vows 'harsh' response after US airstrike kills top general Qassem Soleimani

General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who leads the country's aerospace program, said while Iran only fired 13 missiles at the two bases, "we were prepared to launch hundreds". He said Iran had simultaneously carried out a cyber attack against US monitoring systems.

He also repeated unsubstantiated claims that dozens of Americans were killed or wounded in the strikes. But he said the goal of the operation was not to kill anyone but to "strike the enemy's military machine".