President Donald Trump over the weekend reiterated his threat to target Iranian cultural sites and vowed on Jan. 6 that Iran would “never” have enough material to build an atomic weapon.
On Jan. 5, Trump invited reporters into his Air Force One cabin for roughly 30 minutes as he spoke on and off the record about the threat of Iran. In on-the-record remarks, he threatened sanctions against Iraq after its Parliament called on U.S. troops to leave the country.
“[Iran is] 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 site?” Trump said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
When asked by a reporter about potential retaliation by Iran, Trump said: “If it happens, it happens. If they do anything, there will be major retaliation.”
The laws of armed conflict prohibit the deliberate targeting of cultural sites under most circumstances. Trump’s message comes after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said any target the U.S. military may strike in Iran in retaliation to a possible attack on the United States or its interests by Tehran would be a lawful target orchestrated solely to safeguard U.S. interests.
In a Jan. 6 tweet, Trump wrote that Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.
The Iranian regime’s top military official, Qassem Soleimani, was killed early on Jan. 3 in a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad International Airport. His death is considered a major blow to the Islamic regime.
Trump ordered the strike following repeated attacks in recent months on bases hosting U.S. troops in Iraq by Iranian-backed Shiite terror groups. On Dec. 27, one such attack killed a U.S. defense contractor and injured four U.S. troops and two Iraqi Security Forces members.
The president’s pledge comes a day after Iran said it would no longer abide by any of the limits of its crumbling 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Tehran would abandon the accord’s key provisions that block the regime from having enough material to build an atomic weapon.
The Iranian regime had already formally breached the deal in 2019 when officials announced they had begun to increase uranium enrichment above a previously agreed purity limit. Iranian officials announced the increase on July 7, 2019, in line with earlier signals that they planned to push ahead with raising uranium enrichment to a 5 percent concentration.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), meanwhile, said in a Jan. 5 letter to Congress that the House will vote on a war powers resolution this week in a bid to curb Trump’s authority to pursue military initiatives against Iran. The resolution seeks to put an end to military action against Iran within 30 days unless authorized by Congress.
The president, in his comments to reporters on Jan. 5, also issued a warning to Baghdad after the Iraqi Parliament’s call for the United States and other foreign troops to leave the country after the killing of Soleimani.
“We have a very extraordinarily expensive airbase that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build, long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it,” Trump told reporters.
Trump said that if Iraq asked U.S. forces to leave and it wasn’t done on a friendly basis, “we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before, ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”
Tensions between Iran and the United States and its allies, including Saudi Arabia, have risen since Washington pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions.
Trump pulled the United States out of the deal because it “failed to protect America’s national security interests” and “enabled its malign behavior, while at best delaying its ability to pursue nuclear weapons and allowing it to preserve nuclear research and development,” according to the White House.
“This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” Trump said at the time. “It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.”