Mike Pompeo Says Trump 'Doesn't Want War' With Iran, Rejects Accusations President Threatening 'War Crimes'

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dismissed criticism that Donald Trump is threatening Iran with "war crimes," saying the president is a "reluctant participant" and doesn't want war with the Islamic Republic.

Pompeo said Trump's Saturday night tweet about targeting "52 Iranian sites important to Iranian culture" was not a threat that would violate Hague Convention and United Nations war crimes laws, which prohibit "the unlawful destruction of cultural heritage."

Instead, Pompeo said Sunday that the Trump administration is not going to "try to attack everybody running around with an AK-47," and will attack targets of the utmost importance to the Tehran government. Pompeo reiterated that Trump is in no way seeking a war with Iran, but he will no longer allow them to use proxy forces to attack Americans.

When pressed by ABC News host George Stephanopoulos about Trump's tweet threatening Iranian cultural sites, Pompeo replied: "We'll behave lawfully, we'll behave inside the system. We always have and we always will, George, you know that.

NEW: @GStephanopoulos presses Sec. of State Mike Pompeo on Trump's tweet warning cultural sites could be targeted if Iran retaliates: "Why is the president threatening Iran with war crimes?"

Pompeo: "We'll behave lawfully. We'll behave inside the system." https://t.co/gJwvmAsvm8 pic.twitter.com/thUzbapH0w

— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) January 5, 2020

"I've seen what we are planning in terms of the target set," Pompeo continued. "The American people should know that every target that we strike will be a lawful target and it will be a target designed at the singular mission of protecting and defending America. President Trump has been diligent about that. He doesn't want war, he is a reluctant participant in this, but he will never shy away from protecting America."

Pompeo said that senior U.S. military leadership had "no skepticism" about whether Revolutionary Guard-Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani was planning future attacks against Americans. He said "it's very clear the world is a safer place today" now that Soleimani "no longer walks the planet."

Pompeo echoed a U.S. Army general and NATO commander's phrase that the military would have been "culpably negligent" had they not struck Soleimani in the Baghdad drone attack early Friday.

On Saturday night, Trump was accused of threatening war crimes against Iran after he tweeted: "Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!"

War crime laws established during the 1954 Hague Convention condemn "damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind" during armed conflicts.

The secretary of state explained that Trump's language was intended to mean that the U.S. won't allow Iran or any other governments to hide behind proxy forces that are directed to attack Americans. Pompeo said that unlike previous administrations, the U.S. will not just "challenge and try to attack everybody who was running around with an AK-47 or a piece of indirect artillery."

"We're taking a very different approach. We're telling the Iranian regime: 'Enough. You can't get away with using proxy forces and thinking your homeland will be safe and secure.' We're going to respond against the actual decision makers, the people who are causing this threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran. We're taking this seriously and we're going to defend the American people at every turn," he added.

"We're working diligently to execute our strategy to convince the Iranian regime to act like a normal nation," Pompeo said.

mike pompeo trump war iran
Mike Pompeo dismissed criticism that Donald Trump is threatening Iran with "war crimes," saying the president is a "reluctant participant" and doesn't want war with the Islamic Republic. Screenshot: ABC News | Twitter