Donald Trump has warned Iran not to retaliate after the killing of top military general Qassem Soleimani, threatening to hit dozens of historically and culturally important sites in the country if they do so.
In a series of tweets the US president said the country would be hit “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD”, specifically referencing 52 sites that could be targeted by the US military.
His comments came after Iran vowed “forceful revenge” for Soleimani’s death during a Trump-ordered airstrike, which took place early on Friday near Baghdad Airport. The high-ranking general was the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force and one of the most powerful military figures in the Middle East.
Over the course of three tweets, Trump wrote: “Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime.”
“Let this serve as a WARNING,” the president added, “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!”
His reference to the 52 hostages relates to the number of people who were held captive for nearly 15 months after protesters overran the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to Trump’s threats by saying they breached international law.
He tweeted: “Having committed grave breaches of int’l law in Friday’s cowardly assassinations, @realdonaldtrump threatens to commit again new breaches of Jus cogens; -Targeting cultural sites is a war crime; -Whether kicking or screaming, end of US malign presence in West Asia has begun.”
He added: “Those masquerading as diplomats and those who shamelessly sat to identify Iranian cultural & civilian targets should not even bother to open a law dictionary.
“Jus cogens refers to peremptory norms of international law, i.e. international red lines. That is, a big(ly) ‘no no’.”
Zarif’s reference to war crimes was also echoed by some commentators and politicians in the US.
“Someone better let the president know he’s threatening war crimes,” tweeted Tom Nichols, an international affairs specialist and professor at the US Naval War College.
Trump’s tweets came as the White House sent to Congress a formal notification under the War Powers Act of the drone strike on Soleimani, a senior administration official said.
US law requires notification within 48 hours of the introduction of American forces into an armed conflict or a situation that could lead to war.
The notification was classified and it was not known if a public version would be released. House speaker Nancy Pelosi said the classified document “suggests Congress and the American people are being left in the dark about our national security”.
In a statement, Pelosi said the “highly unusual” decision to classify the document compounds concerns from Congress.
“This document prompts serious and urgent questions about the timing, manner and justification of the administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran,” she said.
Pelosi added that the Trump administration’s “provocative, escalatory and disproportionate military engagement continues to put service members, diplomats and citizens of America and our allies in danger.”
She called on the administration “for an immediate, comprehensive briefing of the full Congress on military engagement related to Iran and next steps under consideration.”