Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said the United States has no intention of harming Persian culture—unlike the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran.
MSNBC anchor and foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell asked Pompeo at a press conference whether he would advise President Donald Trump against targeting cultural sites in Iran, but Pompeo flipped the question around.
"Let me tell you who has done damage to the Persian culture—it is not the United States of America, it is the ayatollah," Pompeo said.
Mitchell said she was "wondering" whether Pompeo would advise against targeting cultural sites, but Pompeo responded that he had been unambiguous in his prior statements, saying Mitchell was "not really wondering." Mitchell read a tweet from Trump in which he decried the ways Iran has violated international law. The tweet also said Iranian leaders should not be able to dictate the rules of engagement.
Trump said the military has a list of 52 targets in Iran, adding that the sites have strategic and cultural significance. Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif responded on Twitter with a series of tweets saying Trump would commit war crimes by bombing cultural sites, but Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper have stated that any military action against Iran would be lawful.
Pompeo advocated greater religious freedom for Iranians and the preservation of Persian culture.
"Persian culture's rich and steeped in history and intellect, and [the ayatollahs] have denied the capacity for that culture to continue," Pompeo said. He said the clerics have not allowed Iranian citizens to celebrate Persian holidays.
Pompeo argued the regime's militarism has led to many deaths, and Iranian leaders have not permitted mourning for those killed by terrorist leader Qassem Soleimani, whom the ayatollahs have honored as a martyr.
"They have not allowed people that they have killed—that Qassem Soleimani killed—they have not allowed them to go mourn their family members," he said. "The real risk to Persian culture does not come from the United States of America. There is no mistake about that."
Soleimani, one of the country's top military commanders who led the elite Quds Force, died in a drone strike Trump ordered last week.