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Defense Chief Appears at Odds With Trump on Cultural Sites

Esper says they would not be targeted in Iran under 'laws of armed conflict'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 7, 2020 4:27 AM CST
Updated Jan 7, 2020 6:17 AM CST
In this May 22, 2002 photo, a group of Japanese tourists visits Persepolis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, northeast of the Iranian city of Shiraz.   (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi,File)
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(Newser) – President Trump has threatened to hit sites important to Iranian culture "VERY FAST AND VERY HARD" if the country retaliates for the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani—but the Pentagon is not backing him up. Defense Secretary Mark Esper ruled out striking Iranian cultural sites Monday, saying, "We will follow the laws of armed conflict," CNN reports. When a reporter asked whether that means cultural sites will not be targeted, Esper replied: "That's the laws of armed conflict." Trump doubled down on the threat Sunday, despite that fact that the US is a signatory to the 1954 Hague Convention, which states that nations must "take all possible steps" to protect cultural property, the AP reports.

Trump's threats caused a backlash from lawmakers, including some from his own party, who noted that the US had condemned ISIS for destroying cultural sites. "America is better than that, and President Trump is flat-out wrong to threaten attacks on historic places of cultural heritage," said Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, a former platoon leader in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, per the New York Times. "Destroying some of these culturally significant Iranian sites wouldn’t be seen as just an attack against the regime in Tehran, it could be construed as an attack on history and humanity." Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he had spoken to Trump about his concerns. "We’re not at war with the culture of the Iranian people," he said, adding that targeting cultural sites "is not hitting them hard, it's creating more problems." (Read more Iran stories.)

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