- Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Monday that the US military would not target Iranian cultural sites as tensions with Tehran escalated.
- He said the US military would adhere to the “laws of armed conflict,” which prohibit the deliberate destruction of cultural sites in conflict.
- President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to target Iranian cultural sites, an act that could amount to war crimes under international law.
- Trump threatened the attacks should Iran retaliate for the assassination of its top military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in a US drone strike in Baghdad on Friday.
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Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said the US military will not target cultural sites in Iran, contradicting President Donald Trump’s repeated threats to do just that amid escalating tensions with Tehran.
“We will follow the laws of armed conflict,” Esper told reporters at a Pentagon news briefing on Monday.
Asked whether that ruled out the US striking cultural sites, he replied, “That’s the laws of armed conflict,” without elaborating further.
Under multiple international treaties, the destruction of cultural artifacts with no military value in war is considered a violation of international law and a war crime.
With the US on the brink of open conflict with Iran following the assassination of the country’s top military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, by a US drone strike Friday in Baghdad, Trump has repeatedly pledged to target Iranian cultural sites should Iran retaliate.
“Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have 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,” the president tweeted Saturday.
Other top US officials, however, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have in some cases sought to deny altogether that Trump ever issued the threat.
But Trump has doubled down on the threat, telling reporters on Sunday: “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.”
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