Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said Iran must directly attack American interests in response to the killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
Soleimani, killed Thursday in a precision drone strike ordered by President Trump, was the architect of Iranian war efforts in Syria. The Pentagon considers the general responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Khamenei attended a meeting of the Iranian National Security Council shortly after Soleimani’s death. During the meeting, Khamenei said Iran must respond directly to the killing with its own forces, instead of proxy militias, according to the Times.
The Ayatollah also said that the response must be proportionate to the killing of Soleimani, one of the most powerful figures in the country. And even Iranian hardliners reportedly expressed their desire to temper the response to avoid all-out war with the U.S.
Khamenei openly wept while leading prayers over Soleimani’s casket at the general’s funeral on Monday. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians turned out for the funeral, and 32 were killed and 190 injured in a stampede during the funeral procession in Soleimani’s hometown of Kerman, according to Iranian state television.
President Trump on Friday told reporters that the killing of Soleimani was not meant as a prelude to war.
“We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war,” Trump said. “We do not seek regime change. However, the Iranian regime’s aggression in the region … must end, and it must end now.”