In an interview with Radio Farda’s Hanna Kaviani, U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus discussed a range of issues related to tensions with Iran, in the wake of the targeted killing of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the notorious Qods Force. Ortagus reiterated that the U.S. is not after a military confrontation with Iran.
Hanna Kaviani: Thank you for your time. I really appreciate it in these busy days. My first question is about all the statements, warnings. There were a lot of them by many embassies, U.S. organizations all around the world, warning citizens, U.S. staff . I want to know what is your assessment of the risks right now. And if you are seeing any imminent threats that all these statements are going out?
Morgan Ortegus: Well, we certainly are hoping that the strike that the President made, the decision to take out Qassem Soleimani will deter the regime in Iran from making further unwise decisions that they have been making. In the week leading to the death of Qassem Soleimani, you can see that we had an American contractor, a civilian, who was killed, We had American service members who were injured. It's only by the grace of God and the United States marine corps that we did not have more Americans harmed, injured or killed in the attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. So, obviously the regime in Iran has chosen a number of provocative action over the past year that involved targeting American interests and our allies. You saw the downing of the American drone where President Trump had a very restrained response. You then saw the regime in Iran targeting of the oil fields in Saudi Arabia, targeting civilian airports, targeting ships in the Persian Gulf. As we saw more and more of these provocative actions every single time the United States, we reached out the hand of diplomacy to the regime in Iran. Every time we were met, unfortunately, with some sort of kinetic force from the regime in response, so the President and Secretary Pompeo felt that it was time to put an end to these decisions by Iran.
Hanna Kaviani: So, can you say that by this decision by the President of the United States America is a safer place, that there would be no risk to Americans in the US and in the world because as I said you put out many statements already warning US citizens about possible activities by the Iranians?
Morgan Ortegus: First of all it is important to know that these decisions are never made without risk. The President and his security team including Secretary Pompeo weigh the risk and the consequences very heavily when making these decisions. These decisions are never made lightly. They are taken very somberly and very seriously. And of course, the President had to look and say does the risk of keeping Qassem Soleimani alive, does that outweigh the risk of seeing him dead. And of course, ultimately we decided that the greater risk was for Qassem Soleimani, the world's greatest terrorist, to continue to breathe life on this planet. So that's why the President made the decision. Obviously, we are doing everything within our power here in the State Department. We are working incredibly closely with our colleague at the Department of Defence to keep our diplomats and our American citizens safe. There is no higher priority for Secretary Pompeo to keep U.S. citizens safe abroad.
Hanna Kaviani: So, we have a lot of audience from inside the country who are voicing their concerns about the possible military confrontation between the United States and Iran at this very high time of tension. And Secretary Pompeo spoke and he spoke of the strategy of the administration, of confront and contain. I want to know when having all of this, considering all of this, is the U.S. administration still thinking about having a diplomatic avenue. You mentioned diplomacy before. I want to know now, at this critical point, where does that stand?
Morgan Ortegus: Thanks for the question. So it is very important for your viewers to know that the United States does not seek war with Iran. In fact, the strike was taken because we believed that it would deter the Iranian regime from making more unwise decisions. That was the whole point of making and we have called on the regime to not do anything that would harm any Americans citizens, that would kill American citizens or our military or our allies or our interests. It's important to know that the United States is not preparing for war and we're not planning for war and that's not the outcome that we seek but we're prepared to defend ourselves. So you've seen the Department of Defence send more forces into the region. We are not planning further actions, only action that would be to defend the United States, our people, our military, our allies and our interests.
Hanna Kaviani: Since you are the spokesperson of the State Department, I want to ask you, besides what the Pentagon might do, what is the State Department pursuing diplomatically because a few days ago, after the killing of Qassem Soleimani, we heard of a message which was conveyed to Iran through the Swiss. Was that one of those avenues?
Morgan Ortegus: We have said very publicly to the regime what our intentions are. the President, the Secretary of State. There is often talk about conveying messages through the Swiss, through the French, the Omanis or other people. We try to be very forthright to the entire world but especially to the regime. We have been very public about our intentions. Again, the President has said that the regime in Iran should not try to harm, or make any decisions that will kill or injure American citizens. That is incredibly important to President Trump. We do not seek war with Iran but we will of course take actions necessary to defend ourselves. And I think it is very important for your viewers to also to know that we have often talked about how important we think it is that the protests in Iran that have been going on in Iran over past few weeks, we think that it is hard to get an accurate number, but we think that there is at least a thousand Iranian members who were killed by the regime for peacefully protesting. We think at least there were 10,000 who were jailed for peacefully protesting and we want the Iranian people to know that we hear their voice, we know that they want an accountable government, we know that they want a regime that is not beholden to the whims of the Ayatollah and Qassem Soleimani and we hear their call for a more just society.
Hanna Kaviani: Do you also hear those who say that confrontations might undermine the voices of the people who were on the streets in November, those families who are now seeking justice for their loved ones who died. What do you have to say to those people who say a possible military confrontation can undermine those calls?
Morgan Ortegus: We think it's the opposite. We saw a regime that was emboldened, that was taking kinetic action upon kinetic action upon kinetic action. They were harming civilians in Saudi Arabia, in Yemen, in Lebanon, in Syria. Remember, Qassem Soleimani is responsible and helped oversee the brutal murder of hundreds of thousands of Syrians. He was responsible for killing more Muslims than he was attacking Americans even though we saw at least hundreds of Americans were killed because of Qassem Soleimani and the attacks that he sponsored over the past two decades. That unchecked behavior had gone on for too long and the United States was no longer willing to stand by and watch our embassies be attacked and watch our people be killed and that is why the President made a decision that he did. The Iranian regime's behavior had to be checked. So we spoke to them in a language that we think they finally understood.
Hanna Kaviani: Miss Ortegas, thank you for your time. We really appreciate it.