LEILA FADEL, HOST:
The Middle East is reeling after the Friday assassination of Iran's most prominent general, the Iranian ambassador to the U.N. calling it an act of war. Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad. He was the commander of the Quds Force, an elite branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. The killing has prompted vows of vengeance from Iran's leaders, raising the specter of all-out war in the region. Inside Iran, Soleimani was a popular figure. And today, the country is mourning his death.
Joining us to discuss the reaction inside Iran is Abas Aslani, editor-in-chief of the Iran Front Page. He's on the line with us from Tehran. Thank you for joining us.
ABAS ASLANI: Hello. Good to be with you.
FADEL: So Soleimani was the top - was a top general in Iran. How have Iran's supreme leader, the government reacted to his assassination?
ASLANI: Well, Qassem Soleimani is considered to be a national icon in the country because of his attempts to stop the terrorists of ISIS in the region and helping the Iraqi and Syrian governments to defeat the ISIS.
So we have had two reactions. One side has been the official reaction by the senior officials. What they have been talking is that they - there is going to be a harsh or severe revenge against this. They are saying that what the United States has done is unreasonable and cannot be justified, and they will need to respond to that because they argue that if they do not respond, the United States will once again attack Iran. This time may be harsher. So this is a kind of deterrence rather than offense.
FADEL: But what would retaliation...
ASLANI: You know, we can make sure that...
FADEL: ...Look like, Mr. Aslani? What would retaliation...
FADEL: ...Look like?
ASLANI: There has been meetings and discussions with Iranian senior officials yesterday. They have not tried to specify the details that - how they will respond. But they have said that this will be proportionate, as well as it's going to be done in a due time and in an appropriate manner. There can be different options for this. I can say that the most, let's say, available one can be to, let's say, to target American assets in the region. Americans are present in this part of the world. So they might be facing some problems and challenges in terms of their presence, at least in Iraq. They have bases, as well as warships and allies in the region, and Iran can see those targets within reach. But whether that response is going to be direct engagement of Iran or indirect engagement - that's the question. And we don't know what exactly will it be.
But there can be different options. But they have tried to make sure that their response will not be less than what has happened to Iran by assassinating Qassem Soleimani.
FADEL: Now, the U.S. said that they did this - the president said that he did this because he wanted to stop a war. What has the response been to that?
ASLANI: Well, even according to some analysts in the United States, I would say that they said that this was a declaration of war rather than stopping a war because this can, let's say, provoke Iran and lead this into a situation where both countries can find each other in a direct military conflict in the region. This can have its own consequences and repercussions, which might not benefit even both sides, as well as the region.
But if, I think, Donald Trump wanted to stop a war, we have to first ask whether - was there going to be any war in the region that he wanted to stop that? And who wanted to initiate that war? And I'm not saying that Iran wanted to initiate any war, but vice versa, I think this is something which brings more and fuels more instability and insecurity to the region.
FADEL: That was Abas Aslani, editor-in-chief of the Iran Front Page. Thank you for speaking with us.
ASLANI: Thank you. Good to be with you.
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