US President Donald Trump says he will obey international law on avoiding targeting cultural sites in military attacks, walking back a threat he made to Iran days earlier.
Mr Trump on Saturday said the United States has targeted 52 Iranian sites, including ones that are very important to Iranian culture, and would strike if Iran attacks Americans or US assets in response to the US killing of its military commander, Qassem Soleimani.
Attacking cultural sites, though, would break international conventions and treaties, and the threat sparked concern around the world.
Mr Trump, speaking to reporters in the Oval Office as he met Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, made clear he would reluctantly abide by the law.
“You know what, 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 me,” he said.
“I will say this: if Iran does anything that they shouldn’t be doing, they’re going to be suffering the consequences and very strongly,” he added.
Trump meets with Greece prime minister amid sky-high tensions with Iran
— NaynWorld (@nayn_world) January 7, 2020
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said at a news conference on Tuesday (local time) that it would not be appropriate for the United States to strike Iranian cultural sites.
The about-face follows a demand from Iraq’s outgoing prime minister for the US to pull its troops out of the country.
Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who resigned in November amid mass anti-government protests, said Iraq wants a US troop withdrawal to avoid further escalation as tensions soar between American and Iran.
His comments came just days after the US air strike killed Iran’s top general, shortly after he arrived at Baghdad’s international airport.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, senior Iraqi commander of an Iran-backed militia, was also killed in Friday’s strike. His remains were brought back to Iraq from Iran to be buried in the holy southern city of Najaf.
Thousands of mourners followed the procession from the border, chanting “America is the great Satan.”
Though the death of General Soleimani is stoking broader regional tensions and fears of more violence, in Iraq, the killing of al-Muhandis drove a wedge between Iraq and the US.
Officials in Baghdad consider the strike to be a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, as al-Muhandis, who was also the deputy head of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, was assassinated on Iraqi soil without their approval or knowledge.