Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a statement on Iraq and Syria, at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago property in Palm Beach, Fla., on Dec. 29, 2019.
Evan Vucci—AP
By ROBERT BURNS / AP
January 5, 2020

(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that any target the U.S. military may strike in Iran, in the event Iran retaliates against America for killing its most powerful general, would be legal under the laws of armed conflict.

Pompeo was asked on ABC’s “This Week” about President Donald Trump’s assertion Saturday on Twitter that the United States has 52 Iranian targets in its sights, “some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.”

The laws of armed conflict prohibit the deliberate targeting of cultural sites under most circumstances. The American Red Cross notes on its website that the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their additional protocols, ratified by scores of nations in recent years, states that “cultural objects and places of worship” may not be attacked and outlaws “indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations.”

Targeting cultural sites is a war crime under the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural sites. The U.N. Security Council also passed unanimously a resolution in 2017 condemning the destruction of heritage sites. Attacks by the Islamic State group and other armed factions in Syria and Iraq prompted that vote.

“Every target that we strike will be a lawful target, and it will be a target designed with a singular mission — defending and protecting America,” Pompeo said.

He also said the Trump administration has abandoned the previous U.S. administration’s focus on countering Iranian proxy groups and suggested the U.S. strike in Baghdad that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was an example of the new strategy.

“We’re going to respond against the actual decision-makers, the people who are causing this threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said.

In Baghdad on Sunday, the U.S. coalition combating the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria announced that it has “paused” training of Iraqi security forces in order to focus on protecting coalition personnel.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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