Esper: 'Fully confident' Trump won't give 'illegal order' to hit Iranian cultural sites

Esper: 'Fully confident' Trump won't give 'illegal order' to hit Iranian cultural sites
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Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperPentagon chief does not support invoking Insurrection Act The Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen Pentagon moves 1,600 active-duty troops near DC as tensions escalate MORE on Tuesday said he was “fully confident” that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says inviting Russia to G7 'a question of common sense' Pentagon chief does not support invoking Insurrection Act Dershowitz: Does President Trump have power to declare martial law? MORE would not give the Pentagon an illegal order to target any Iranian cultural centers.

“I am fully confident that the president, the commander in chief, will not give us an illegal order,” Esper told reporters when asked if he would resign rather than violate international law if Trump ordered a strike on Iranian cultural sites.

“As I said, the United States military will, as it always has, obey the laws of armed conflict,” Esper added.

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In recent days, Trump has threatened to hit cultural sites if Iranian-backed forces initiate strikes on Americans or U.S. assets in the Middle East.

Deliberately targeting a cultural site is a war crime, according to the 1954 Hague Convention and international law.

When asked Tuesday whether he would target Iranian cultural sites, Trump appeared to back off his earlier threats, saying he wanted to obey the law.

“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 and then we have to be very gentle with their cultural institutions. But I’m OK with it. It’s OK with me,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office during a meeting with the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Trump’s previous threats came after he ordered an airstrike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian official and the leader of the country's elite Quds Force.

Iran vowed retaliation, and Trump tweeted in response that the U.S. military has targeted 52 Iranian sites, including cultural ones, that it would strike if there is an attack on Americans. 

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That prompted pushback from several prominent GOP lawmakers, including top Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump congratulates Steve King challenger on GOP primary win The Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen Republicans turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks MORE (Ky.).

Without mentioning Trump by name, McConnell on Tuesday told reporters that targeting cultural sites “is not appropriate.”

Esper, meanwhile, has remained steadfast in his insistence that the U.S. would not engage in war crimes, telling reporters on Monday that “we will follow the laws of armed conflict.”