Trump Backs Off Threat to Destroy Iranian Cultural Sites

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President Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media during a meeting with Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis in the Oval Office of the White House on Jan. 7, 2020. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday backed off from his threat to destroy Iranian cultural and world heritage sites if Iran attacks to avenge the killing of Quds Force leader Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

Trump said he had been informed that attacking cultural sites would be against international laws signed by the U.S. and his own administration.

"If that's what the law is, I like to obey the law," he said. "We're prepared to attack if we have to" against other targets should Iran take action against Americans or U.S. interests in response to the drone strike at Baghdad's International Airport last week that killed Soleimani.

Earlier, Trump sent tweets threatening Iran's cultural institutions despite statements from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley that the U.S. would observe the laws of armed conflict in any conflict with Iran.

Related: US Military Won't Target Iran’s Cultural Sites, Pentagon Chief Says

In remarks during an Oval Office meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Trump backed up Milley and Esper in dismissing a letter sent to Iraq's Defense Ministry on Monday by Marine Brig. Gen. William Seely, commander of Task Force Iraq, in which he said the estimated 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq would begin withdrawing at the request of the Baghdad government.

"I understand it was an unsigned letter" sent by mistake, Trump said, adding that there are no plans for an Iraq pullout.

"At some point, we want to get out, but this isn't the right point," he said. "It's the worst thing that could happen to Iraq -- if we leave" during the current turmoil while facing threats from Iran and a continuing battle against the remnants of the Islamic state.

Trump claimed that the U.S. has "tremendous support from the people of Iraq" for the presence of U.S. forces, despite the unanimous vote in the Iraqi parliament Sunday on a non-binding resolution demanding that the U.S. withdraw.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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