- President Donald Trump defended his threat to target cultural sites in Iran if the country retaliates after the US killed General Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike.
- Trump had said that the US would target 52 sites, some of which are cultural sites, if Iran strikes any American citizens or US sites.
- But deliberately targeting cultural sites or cultural heritage sites could amount to a war crime under international law.
- On Sunday evening, Trump doubled down and said Iran is “allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people.” He said: “And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way.”
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US President Donald Trump doubled town on his threat to target cultural sites in Iran — an act that can be considered a war crime.
Trump spoke to White House reporters on Sunday evening, where he defended his earlier statement that the US was targeting such sites and claimed that the US has the right to do so.
“They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way,” he said, according to a pool report from journalists at the scene.
His comments came after his tweets earlier on Sunday, in which he said the US was preparing in case Iran retaliated after the US killed General Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike.
Trump said the US had “targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.
“The USA wants no more threats!”
—Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
As Business Insider’s John Haltiwanger previously reported, the act of destroying cultural sites during an armed conflict can be considered a war crime under international law.
United Nations resolution 2347 condemns “the unlawful destruction of cultural heritage, including the destruction of religious sites and artefacts, and the looting and smuggling of cultural property from archaeological sites, museums, libraries, archives, and other sites, notably by terrorist groups.”
And Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions says that it is prohibited to “commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples…to use such objects in support of the military effort…[and] to make such objects the object of reprisals.”
The International Criminal Court, of which the US is not a member, also previously ruled that the destruction of cultural heritage was a war crime, in a 2012 case involving an al-Qaeda affiliated group.
Iran warned the US about taking aim its cultural sites.
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted on Sunday, accusing Trump of having committed “grave breaches” of international law over Soleimani’s death, and writing that “Targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME.”
—Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 5, 2020
“Those masquerading as diplomats and those who shamelessly sat to identify Iranian cultural & civilian targets should not even bother to open a law dictionary,” he wrote.
Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, defended Trump’s tweets but did not directly answer when asked on CNN’s “State of the Nation” whether the US was actually preparing to target Iranian cultural sites.
“We’re going to do the things that are right and the things that are consistent with American law,” Pompeo said.
Trump warned on Sunday that the US “will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner” if Iran decides to “strike any U.S. person or target.”
Iran’s response to Soleimani’s killing could take many forms, from targeting US military bases or US citizens around the world to launching a cyberattack on the country.
The US’s allies called for “restraint and responsibility.”
In a joint statement, the leaders of the United Kingdom, France and Germany said there was an “urgent need for de-escalation” and insisted the current cycle of violence “must be stopped.”