President Donald Trump appeared to back off his threat to strike 52 Iranian cultural sites Tuesday afternoon amid escalating tensions with Iran, a move several foreign policy experts have said could be considered a war crime.
Trump was asked by a reporter about his warnings to Iran over the weekend that the United States had a list of Iranian cultural sites that were being targeted if Iran decided to retaliate for a U.S. drone strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the country's elite Quds force.
"They're allowed to kill our people, they're allowed to maim our people, they're allowed to blow up everything that we have and there's nothing that stops them," Trump told reporters at the White House. "And we are, according to various laws, I suppose, to be very careful with their cultural heritage. And you know what? If that's what the law is, I like to obey the law. But think of it. They kill our people, they blow up our people, that we have to be very gentle with their cultural institutions. But I'm OK with it. It's OK with me."
Trump made the comments to reporters before he met with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in the Oval Office.
"I will say this: If Iran does anything that they shouldn't be doing, they're going to be suffering the consequences and very strongly," Trump added.
The targeting and destruction of a country's important cultural sites is against Protocol I of the Geneva Convention and is largely considered a war crime across the world. The section dictates that destroying "historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples," and prohibits a country from making the sites the "object of reprisals."
On Saturday, Trump tweeted that if Iran retaliated against U.S. assets for the drone strike that killed Soleimani, the U.S. had already targeted 52 Iranian sites, which Trump said represented the 52 American hostages taken by Iran in 1977.
"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, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD," Trump tweeted. "The USA wants no more threats!"
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