Trump feared assassination by Iran as revenge for Suleimani death, book says

Revelation about former president’s concern reported in new book The Divider by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser

In December 2020, Donald Trump told friends he was afraid Iran would try to assassinate him in revenge for the death of Qassem Suleimani, an Iranian general killed in a US drone strike nearly a year before.

The startling news is reported in a new book by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, a husband-and-wife team who write for the New York Times and the New Yorker.

The Divider: Trump in the White House 2017-2021 will be published in the US next week. The Guardian obtained a copy.

Baker and Glasser chart Trump’s Iran policy, from reluctant talks over the nuclear deal signed under Barack Obama to the US withdrawal in May 2018 and the point in June 2019 when Trump agreed to air strikes but called them off at the last minute.

Trump said then: “I thought about it for a second and I said, ‘You know what, they shot down an unmanned drone … and here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead.’ And I didn’t like it … I didn’t think it was proportionate.”

It later emerged that the Fox News host Tucker Carlson was among those who advised Trump against ordering the Iran strikes.

Six months later, Trump did authorise the strike on Suleimani.

The commander of the elite Quds (Jerusalem) force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, which the US designated a terrorist group in April 2019, was killed on 3 January 2020 as he left Baghdad airport.

Officials from Iran-backed Iraqi militias were also killed in the strike, which used an MQ-9 Reaper drone.

The Pentagon said Suleimani had been “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region”.

Trump bragged about the strike, telling a rally in Toledo, Ohio: “We stopped him and we stopped him quickly and we stopped him cold.

“He was a bad guy. He was a bloodthirsty terrorist, and he’s no longer a terrorist. He’s dead.”

But according to Glasser and Baker, less than a year later, at least in private, Trump was not quite so bullish.

On 16 December 2020, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, tweeted: “Those who ordered the murder of General Suleimani as well as those who carried this out should be punished. This revenge will certainly happen at the right time.”

Baker and Glasser report that Trump and his advisers considered new strikes but backed off because the end of Trump’s time in power was too near.

The authors also write: “At a cocktail party, Trump told several of his Florida friends he was afraid Iran would try to assassinate him, so he had to go back to Washington where he would be safer.”

Trump duly returned to Washington, where, Baker and Glasser write, he swiftly “turned up the heat on Mike Pence”, his vice-president who he was pressuring to block electoral college results confirming Trump’s election defeat by Joe Biden.


Martin Pengelly in New York

The GuardianTramp

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