DUBAI (Reuters) – Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian military commander killed in a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3 in Baghdad, had sought to bring stability to the Middle East, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday.

“Commander Soleimani was a man who was pursuing stability and calm in the region,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state television. “If commander Soleimani wanted to kill American generals it would have been very, very easy for him, in Afghanistan, Iraq and any other place. He never did that.”

Rouhani, citing the missile strike Iran carried out against a U.S. base in Iraq in retaliation for Soleimani’s death, said the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program was not intended for attacks on neighboring countries – which include arch regional adversary Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies.

“Our missiles are against terrorism, our missiles are against crimes. We have never built and stored missiles for aggression. We reassure all our neighbors and the people in the region that our desire is peaceful co-existence.”

The United States and Iran came close to full-blown conflict last month after the Iranian general’s killing and Iran’s retaliation, but stepped back from the brink and no notable incidents have occurred since then.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration said Soleimani, the commander of elite Iranian forces based abroad, was targeted for plotting future attacks on U.S. interests and that he had helped coordinated strikes on American forces in Iraq in the past through militia proxies.

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