US President Donald Trump doubled down Sunday on a threat to attack Iranian cultural sites despite accusations that any such strike would amount to a crime .
After his top diplomat, Mike Pompeo, had insisted that any action would conform to law of nations , Trump said he would regard cultural sites as prey if Iran resorted to deadly force against US targets.
“They’re allowed to kill our people, they’re allowed to torture and maim our people, they’re allowed to use roadside bombs and magnify our people and we’re not allowed to the touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way,” Trump told reporters.
“If they are doing anything there’ll be major retaliation.”
His comments on his return from an opportunity in Florida followed a welter of criticism over a Tweet on Saturday night during which he said sites which were “important to… Iranian culture” were on an inventory of 52 potential US targets.
Tehran’s secretary of state had reacted to those initial comments by drawing parallels with the ISIS group’s destruction of the center East’s cultural heritage.
And as Twitter was flooded with photos of revered Iranian landmarks in ancient cities like Isfahan under the hashtag #IranianCulturalSites, leading US Democrats said the president would be in breach of international protocols if he made good on his threat.
“You are threatening to commit war crimes,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, one among the highest Democrats hoping to challenge Trump in November’s election, wrote on Twitter.
“We aren’t at war with Iran. The American people don’t need a war with Iran.”
“Targeting civilians and cultural sites is what terrorists do. it is a crime ,” added fellow Senator Chris Murphy.
In a flurry of interviews on the Sunday talkshows, Secretary of State Pompeo said the US wouldn’t hesitate to hit back hard against Iran’s “kleptocratic regime” if it came under fire , but pledged that any action would be according to the rule of law.
Both sides have traded threats since a US drone strike in Iraq on Friday killed Qasem Soleimani — one among the foremost important figures within the Iranian government.
“We’ll behave lawfully. We’ll behave inside the system. We always have and that we always will,” Pompeo told the ABC network.
“The American people should know that each target that we strike are going to be a lawful target, and it’ll be a target designed with a singular mission, of protecting and defending America.”
His comments came after his counterpart in Tehran Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that “targeting cultural sites may be a WAR CRIME”.
“A reminder to those hallucinating about emulating ISIS war crimes by targeting our cultural heritage: Through MILLENNIA of history, barbarians have come and ravaged our cities, razed our monuments and burnt our libraries,” said secretary of state Zarif.
“Where are they now? We’re still here, & standing tall.”
Nicholas Burns, who served as US ambassador to NATO under president George W. Bush, said the Trump administration would be guilty of hypocrisy given it had been a part of international efforts to discourage IS from destroying countless pre-Islamic artefacts, including within the Syrian UNESCO-listed site of Palmyra.
“Donald Trump’s threat to destroy Iranian cultural sites would be a crime under UN Security Council resolution 2347 – supported by the Trump Administration itself in 2017 to warn ISIS+Al Qaeda of comparable actions.
“His threat is immoral and Un-American,” said Burns, now a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of state .
Others drew comparisons with the Taliban’s 2001 destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan
Pompeo refused to offer details on the 52 potential targets which Trump said had been involved to represent each and each hostage held within the standoff at the US embassy in Tehran four decades ago.
But one former official expressed skepticism that military planners would comply with target cultural sites.
“I find it hard to believe the Pentagon would offer Trump targeting options that include Iranian cultural sites,” said Colin Kahl who was National Security Adviser to former vice chairman Joe Biden.
“Trump might not care about the laws of war, but DoD (Department of Defense) planners and lawyers do… and targeting cultural sites is crime .”