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Trump sought Iranian officer's death for political gain, says ex-US defence secretary

Mark Esper's memoir presents himself as one of a group of aides who resisted bad or illegal ideas proposed by the former president
Mark Esper, right, served as defence secretary from June 2019 to November 2020, when he was fired over a range of differences on policy issues (AFP)

Donald Trump's ex-defence secretary has said the former US president wanted to kill a senior Iranian military commander in August 2020, a few months before that year's US presidential election, for political reasons.

In his new memoir, Mark Esper wrote that General Mark Milley, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told him that Robert O'Brien, Trump's national security adviser, had called to say that "the president wanted to strike a senior military officer who was operating outside of Iran".

"Milley and I were aware of this person and the trouble he had been stirring in the region for some time," Esper writes in the book, A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Defense Secretary in Extraordinary Times.

"But why now? What was new? Was there an imminent threat? What about gathering the national security team to discuss this?

"Milley said he was 'stunned' by the call, and he sensed that O'Brien 'put the president up to this,' trying to create news that would help Trump's re-election."

According to the Guardian, which obtained a copy of the book, due to be published next week, Esper "presents himself as one of a group of aides who resisted bad or illegal ideas proposed by Trump or subordinates".

War fears

Trump made a strong line against Iran a key part of his administration's actions, as well as a platform for re-election.

In January 2020, the US killed Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds force, in a drone strike on Baghdad's international airport.

Esper writes that at a meeting in July 2020, O'Brien pushed for military action against Iran over its uranium enrichment, work that had been sped up after Trump pulled out of an Obama-era nuclear deal.

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In September of the same year, Trump tweeted: "Any attack by Iran, in any form, against the United States will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!"

Trump's rhetoric lead to fears that he might attempt to provoke a war with Iran as the November 2020 election neared.

Esper served as defence secretary from June 2019 to November 2020, when he was fired over a range of differences on policy issues.

In February, Esper dropped a lawsuit against the US Department of Defense in which he had accused it of withholding parts of the memoir.

Esper had contended that "significant text is being improperly withheld from the publication... under the guise of classification" after he submitted the memoir to officials at the Pentagon for review.

Esper's lawyer, Mark S Zaid, said in a statement on 4 February that the Pentagon had reversed its stance on "the overwhelming majority" of material that officials had deemed classified and thus not for publication.

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