No.10 has issued Donald Trump with a warning over his threat to target Iran’s cultural sites as tensions rise over the killing of Tehran’s top military general.
As the Middle East crisis deepened at the weekend, the US president was accused of raising the spectre of war crimes in a tweet warning Iran the US was prepared to attack sites “important to Iran and the Iranian culture”.
Quds Force general Soleimani was killed in a US drone on Friday in Baghdad, Iraq, on the US president’s orders, sparking protests in Baghdad and Tehran.
Downing Street has now issued the president with a light rebuke over the tweet, with Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said the move could breach convention.
He said: “There are international conventions in place that prevent the destruction of cultural heritage.”
Asked directly if targeting cultural sites in Iran would constitute a war crime, the spokesman replied: “You can read the international conventions for themselves. It is the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict.”
But Downing Street said the US has the right to “self defence” and underlined the White House’s claim that Soleimani was planning an attack on American diplomats.
Johnson said on Sunday that Soleimani “posed a threat to all our interests” and said that the UK “will not lament his death”.
His spokesperson also insisted Britain’s security partnership with the US remains “very close” despite Trump not informing the UK of its plans to assassinate Soleimani.
“We have a very close security partnership with the United States,” he said. “We are in regular dialogue at every level.”
Asked if Johnson was convinced the US drone strike was legal, the spokesperson said: “States have a right to take action such as this in self-defence and the US have been clear that Soleimani was plotting imminent attacks on American diplomats and military personnel.”
The president has also vowed to impose sanctions on Iraq if it tells US troops to leave the country.
Johnson spoke to the Iraqi prime minister on Monday morning in a bid to encourage a de-escalation.
No.10 also urged the Iraqi government to allow foreign troops to remain in the country to fight against the threat posed by the self-described Islamic State (IS, or Daesh in Arabic).
The PM’s spokesperson said: “The coalition is in Iraq to protect Iraqis and others from the threat from Daesh at the request of the Iraqi government.
“We urge the Iraqi government to ensure the coalition is able to continue our vital work countering this shared threat.
“The foreign secretary spoke to the Iraqi president and prime minister this weekend.
“The prime minister is speaking with his Iraqi counterpart today and our ambassador in Baghdad is in touch with political leaders in Iraq to emphasise these points and urge them to ensure we can keep fighting this threat together.”
No.10 said Iran’s announcement that it will abandon the limits in the unravelling nuclear deal on fuel enrichment, its uranium stockpile and research activities was “extremely concerning”.
“Iran’s announcement is clearly extremely concerning – it’s in everyone’s interest that the deal remains in place,” the PM’s spokesperson said.
“It makes the world safer by taking the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran firmly off the table.
“We’ve always said the nuclear deal is a reciprocal deal and in light of Iran’s announcement we are urgently speaking to partners about next steps.”