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Buttigieg dodges question on if Soleimani killing was an 'assassination'

Posted January 5, 2020 1:06 p.m. EST

— Pete Buttigieg on Sunday was reluctant to characterize the US drone strike that killed a top Iranian military leader as an "assassination" despite previously characterizing it as one, saying he's "not interested in the terminology."

Asked by CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" if he believed, like some of his fellow 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, that Qasem Soleimani's killing was an "assassination," the former South Bend, Indiana mayor, dodged the question.

"I am not interested in the terminology. I'm interested in the consequences, and I'm interested in the process. Did the President have legal authority to do this? Why wasn't Congress consulted? It seems like more people at Mar-a-Lago heard about this than people in the United States Congress who are a coequal branch of government with a responsibility to consult. Which of our allies were consulted? The real world effects of this are going to go far beyond the things that we are debating today and we need answers quickly," he said.

During a Saturday event in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, Buttigieg told voters, "When you do something as provocative as assassinate a significant foreign official on the soil of a third country, you better think through all of the things that are going to happen next."

His comments come amid escalating tensions between Tehran and Washington following a series of US attacks in the region, including one last week in Iraq that killed Soleimani and several others. Though President Donald Trump has claimed Soleimani was planning attacks on US forces and that the action was taken "to stop a war," he vowed specific military action against Iran if it "strikes any Americans, or American assets."

Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, along with other Democrats, have labeled Soleimani's killing an "assassination."

In a series of tweets on Friday, Warren criticized the President over his US foreign policy in the Middle East.

"Donald Trump ripped up an Iran nuclear deal that was working. He's repeatedly escalated tensions. Now he's assassinated a senior foreign military official," she tweeted.

Sanders said at a town hall event in Anamosa, Iowa, on Friday, "This is a dangerous escalation that brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East which would cost countless lives and trillions more dollars and lead to even more death, more conflict, more displacement in that already highly volatile region of the world."

"Instead of provoking more volatility in the region the United States must use its power, its wealth and influence to bring its regional powers to the table to resolve conflicts," he said.

On Sunday, Buttigieg said that "none of us should shed a tear for (Soleimani's) death. But just because he deserved it doesn't mean it was the right strategic move." The move to kill the Iranian military leader, Buttigieg said, was "questionable" and calls for answers.

"This is about consequences," he said. "We need answers on how this decision was reached, whether there was an alternative and whether the President has thought through the consequences in particular for American lives and not just the troops who are on planes going to the Middle East right now, but US citizens around the world whose lives may be at risk, because of the fallout from this action. Until we get answers on that, then this move is questionable to say the least."

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