Trump Doubles Down on Threat to Iran Culture Sites As Pompeo Vows Administration Will 'Behave Lawfully'

President Donald Trump on Sunday reiterated his threat to target Iranian cultural heritage sites should their forces strike American targets in retaliation for the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's Quds Force.

The president first made the threat in a series of tweeted shared on Saturday. "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," he wrote. "The USA wants no more threats!"

A day later, Trump doubled down on the threat in comments made to White House pool reporters despite facing immense backlash from his critics, Democrats and human rights groups that allege such targets would constitute a war crime under international law.

"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 sites? It doesn't work that way," the president said on Sunday.

His remarks came hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump on cable news and vowed that his administration intends to "behave lawfully."

"As you know, the Geneva Conventions outlaw attacks on cultural objects and places of worship. Our own DOD war manual discusses the protection of cultural property," ABC News host George Stephanopoulos said to Pompeo during his appearance on This Week. "So, why is the president threatening Iran with war crimes?"

"We'll behave lawfully. We'll behave inside the system. We always have and we always will, George. You know that," Pompeo responded.

When asked whether Trump was mistaken that the cultural sites were included in America's list of possible targets, Pompeo reassured viewers that the military will only strike "lawful" targets. "I've seen what we are planning in terms of the target set. I'm sure the Department of Defense is continuing to develop options," he said. "The American people should know that every target that we strike will be a lawful target, and it will be a target designed with a singular mission, of protecting and defending America."

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday took to Twitter to warn Trump that "targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME." "Having committed grave breaches of int'l law in Friday's cowardly assassinations, @realdonaldtrump threatens to commit again new breaches of JUS COGENS," he added. "Whether kicking or screaming, end of US malign presence in West Asia has begun."

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a 'Evangelicals for Trump' campaign event held at the King Jesus International Ministry on January 03, 2020 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty