WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CNN on Tuesday that the US wants to de-escalate the current tensions with Iran, but the country is ready to finish any war that could be started.
"We are not looking to start a war with Iran but we are prepared to finish one," he said. "What we'd like to see is the situation de-escalated."
Esper defended the intelligence signaling an "imminent threat" from Soleimani that he and other senior US officials have cited to justify the strike, saying it was persuasive.
"The threat was being orchestrated by Soleimani," Esper said. "I think it was only a matter of days, certainly no more than weeks" before an attack.
Esper suggested on Monday that the US military would not violate the laws of armed conflict by striking Iranian cultural sites, a move threatened by President Donald Trump.
Asked about the issue again on Tuesday, Esper said he was confident that Trump "will only give us legal orders.
"We do not violate the laws of armed conflict," Esper said.
Targeting cultural sites with military action is considered a war crime under international law, including a UN Security Council resolution supported by the Trump administration in 2017 and the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property.