President Donald Trump said Friday that America does not seek “regime change” in Iran, less than a day after the U.S. launched an airstrike that killed the country’s top general, Qasem Soleimani.
But the U.S. is “ready and prepared to take whatever action is necessary” if Iran threatens American lives, Trump added.
“We took action last night to stop a war,” Trump said in his first television address since Soleimani’s death was announced Thursday night. “We did not take action to start a war.”
Soleimani “made the death of innocent people his sick passion,” Trump said from his Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago. “We caught him in the act and terminated him.”
He took no questions from reporters.
Soleimani, who led a special forces unit of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, has been a key figure of Iranian and Middle East politics. He and an aide were killed in a U.S. airstrike at an airport in Baghdad.
His death exacerbated already-high tensions between Iran and the United States, and triggered concerns of retaliation from Iran and proxy forces.
On the heels of Thursday’s strike, the Department of Defense issued a statement saying the strike was aimed at “deterring future Iranian attack plans” and that the U.S. military would continue to “take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.”
The latest revelation comes days after Iran-backed militias attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The two-day embassy attack prompted Trump to order the initial deployment of approximately 750 U.S. Army soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division to the Middle East.
In the wake of the U.S. drone strike, Trump approved another deployment Friday of approximately 3,500 troops to the region.
After Trump’s unannounced speech, he departed Mar-a-Lago en route to Miami, where he was scheduled to attend the launch of his 2020 presidential campaign’s “Evangelicals for Trump” coalition.
More than three dozen influential Evangelical leaders are expected to attend, a Trump campaign source told CNBC.
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— CNBC’s Yelena Dzhanova contributed to this report.