The Pentagon on Monday rejected the US President Donald Trump's very vocal threat to Iran that he would be bombing Iranian cultural sites if they attack Americans or American assets to avenge the death of their top commander Qasem Soleimani.
In a series of tweets, the president asserted that the United States would hit 52 Iranian sites, including targets important to Iranian culture, if Tehran attacks Americans to avenge Soleimani’s death. Trump said: “If they attack again, which I would strongly advise them not to do, we will hit them harder than they have ever been hit before!”
....hundreds of Iranian protesters. He was already attacking our Embassy, and preparing for additional hits in other locations. Iran has been nothing but problems for many years. Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
Following the tweets, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that the country will “follow the laws of armed conflict.” On being questioned if this ruled out targeting cultural sites, Esper said, “That’s the laws of armed conflict.”
This difference between Trump and his Pentagon chief comes at a time of rising tensions with Iran after the U.S carried out drone strike on the Baghdad international airport that resulted in the killing of Iraq's top commander Qasem Soleimani and important military figure Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Mark Esper's statements mirrored the concerns of other military officials over legal prohibitions on attacks on civilian, cultural and religious sites, except under certain, threatening circumstances.
Donald Trump voiced his threat to Iranians twice-- first in a series of tweets on Sunday, followed by reiterating his view to reporters the next day.
His tweet caused a stir amongst officials and legal scholars, who deemed his threat "irresponsible". However, the president stood by his threat. Addressing reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump justified, “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."
Apart from Esper, other officials also tried to clear the air regarding unlawful warfare practices. Ahead of the Pentagon chief's comments, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that US strikes inside Iran would be legal.
“We’ll behave inside the system,” Pompeo said. “We always have and we always will.”