Washington (AFP) – 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 war crime.
After his top diplomat, Mike Pompeo, had insisted that any military action would conform to international law, Trump said he would regard cultural sites as fair game 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 blow up our people and we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way,” Trump told reporters.
“If they do anything there will be major retaliation.”
His comments on his return from a break in Florida followed a welter of criticism over a Tweet on Saturday night in which he said sites which were “important to… Iranian culture” were on a list of 52 potential US targets.
Tehran’s foreign minister had reacted to those initial comments by drawing parallels with the Islamic State group’s destruction of the Middle East’s cultural heritage.
And as Twitter was flooded with photos of revered Iranian landmarks in ancient cities such as 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 of the top Democrats hoping to challenge Trump in November’s election, wrote on Twitter.
“We are not at war with Iran. The American people do not want a war with Iran.”
“Targeting civilians and cultural sites is what terrorists do. It’s a war crime,” added fellow Senator Chris Murphy.
In a flurry of interviews on the Sunday talkshows, Secretary of State Pompeo said the US would not hesitate to hit back hard against Iran’s “kleptocratic regime” if it came under attack, but pledged that any action would be consistent with the rule of law.