Iran’s cultural heritage is suddenly a topic of urgent global interest, after President Trump threatened to strike such sites if the country retaliates for the United States’ killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week.
In a series of tweets Saturday evening, Trump wrote that “if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets,” the U.S. has targeted 52 Iranian sites — “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.”
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, tweeted that targeting Iranian cultural sites would be a war crime.
On Monday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper indicated that U.S. forces wouldn’t carry out Trump’s threat, saying, “We will follow the laws of armed conflict.”
On Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had appeared to walk back Trump’s statements on ABC’s This Week. “We’ll behave lawfully. We’ll behave inside the system. We always have, and we always will,” he said on Sunday morning.
Nonetheless, Trump doubled down on his threat. “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,” he told reporters on Sunday evening. “And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way.”
The targeting of cultural properties by the U.S. is indeed not allowed. The U.S. is a signatory to the 1954 Hague Convention, which requires “refraining from any act of hostility” directed against cultural property.
So now, we have the President saying one thing, and his Defense Secretary and Secretary of State openly saying that they won’t follow those orders.
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