Trump doubles down on threat to Iran cultural sites

President Trump on Sunday evening doubled down on his threat to target Iranian cultural heritage sites, asserting to a group of reporters that the U.S. had the right to strike such targets.

In comments to White House pool reporters, the president dismissed criticism from human rights organizations stressing that such an action would be considered a war crime under international law.

“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,” Trump told reporters, referring to Iran.

His remarks follow tweets Saturday threatening to attack sites “at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture” should Iranian-backed forces strike U.S. civilians or military targets in the Middle East in retaliation for the death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, in a U.S. airstrike.

“Iran has been nothing but problems for many years,” Trump tweeted on Saturday. “Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have 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. The USA wants no more threats!”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded in his own tweet, warning that such strikes would violate international law.

“Having committed grave breaches of int’l law in Friday’s cowardly assassinations, @realdonaldtrump threatens to commit again new breaches of JUS COGENS,” Zarif tweeted. “Targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME.”

The president’s remarks were also torched by officials at Human Rights Watch, a leading international rights group, which warned that Trump was threatening “war crimes” by insinuating that cultural sites could be targeted.

“President Trump should publicly reverse his threats against Iran’s cultural property and make clear that he will not authorize nor order war crimes,” Andrea Prasow, acting Washington director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The US Defense Department should publicly reaffirm its commitment to abide by the laws of war and comply only with lawful military orders.”

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