Pompeo says US will abide by laws of war after Trump suggests targeting Iranian cultural sites

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo | Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Trump created an international uproar by hinting that he could strike such targets.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday insisted that any retaliatory measures by U.S. forces against Iran would abide by the laws of war, after President Donald Trump suggested that he may target cultural sites — a move that critics said could amount to a potential war crime.

“Every target that’s being reviewed, every effort that’s being made will always be conducted inside the international laws of war,” Pompeo told reporters during a news conference at the State Department. “[I’ve] seen it, I’ve worked on this project, and I’m very confident of that.”

Amid rapidly escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran following the killing of Iran’s top military commander last week in a U.S. drone strike, Trump tweeted Saturday that his administration had homed in on 52 Iranian sites — including some “important to … the Iranian culture” — in the event that the Islamic Republic attacked American interests.

Congressional Democrats and international leaders ranging from Iran’s foreign minister to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have warned that such an assault would represent a violation of international conventions of warfare and constitute a war crime by the U.S. government.

Trump defended his controversial suggestion Sunday, telling reporters aboard Air Force One: “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 site? It doesn’t work that way.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper broke with the president over his proposal Monday, asserting that the Pentagon would “follow the laws of armed conflict” in its response to Iran.

Asked Tuesday by NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell whether he would “also push back” against the targeting of culturally significant sites, Pompeo replied indignantly.

“You’re not really wondering, Andrea. You’re not really wondering,” he said, adding that “every action we take will be consistent with the international rule of law, and the American people can rest assured that that’s the case.”

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