Kellyanne Conway defends Trump threat to target Iranian cultural sites

White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayTrump says he's open to speaking to Biden about coronavirus The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden offers to talk coronavirus response with Trump Biden offers to call Trump to discuss national coronavirus response MORE on Monday defended President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign: Trump and former vice president will have phone call about coronavirus Esper: Military personnel could help treat coronavirus patients 'if push comes to shove' Schumer calls for military official to act as medical equipment czar MORE for threatening strikes on Iranian cultural sites, claiming that Tehran has “strategic military sites” that are also considered cultural sites and that the United States would act lawfully.

"Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo said yesterday that we will be within the law, and I think that Iran has many military, strategic military sites that you may cite are also cultural sites,” Conway told reporters at the White House Monday morning, later clarifying that she was not suggesting Iran had camouflaged military targets as cultural sites.

Conway also denied that Trump and Pompeo were not on the same page on the action, after the secretary of State in an interview on Sunday said that the United States would act lawfully in its response to any retaliation for the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

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Many have argued that targeting cultural sites would be considered a war crime and therefore illegal under international law.

“He didn't say he's targeting cultural sites. He said that he was openly asking the question why in the world they're allowed to maim people, put out roadside bombs, kill our people, torture our people ... he said that they identified 52 sites,” Conway said of Trump.

Conway later added that Trump had “identified those sites and said it may happen if Iran retaliates in a certain way.”

Trump said on Twitter Saturday that the U.S. had identified 52 sites, including some important to the Iranian culture, that his administration would target if Iran strikes American assets in retaliation for the U.S. strike that killed the top Iranian general in Iraq last Thursday.

Trump doubled down on his threat Sunday evening after his initial comments sparked massive debate over their legality.

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“They’re allowed to kill our people,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One Sunday evening while returning to Washington from a two-week stint in Palm Beach, Fla.

“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?” the president continued. “It doesn’t work that way.”  

Pompeo sidestepped a question about Trump’s comments earlier on Sunday, saying the U.S. would “behave lawfully” to respond to any Iranian retaliation.

“We’ll behave lawfully. We will behave inside the system. We always have and we always will,” Pompeo said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Conway also took a shot at former President Carter during remarks to reporters on Monday, calling him a “weak president” over his handling of the Iran hostage crisis. Trump said Saturday that his administration had identified 52 targets of importance to Iran, one for each American hostage taken from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

"So, I think the president's putting out the number 52 is significant for those numerologists in Iran who are listening to numbers,” Conway said. “That's the number of hostages they took 40 years ago when — talk about a weak president — President Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterCoronavirus crisis scrambles 2020 political calculus Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Biden could be picking the next president: VP choice more important than ever MORE.”

“I wish him the best now, but he was a very weak president when it came to that. They took our hostages and they released them as soon as President Reagan took office, of course,” she continued.