The president of the operator of the J. Paul Getty Museum Monday called for the protection of cultural sites in the Middle East in response to a tweet from President Donald Trump while Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper ruled out such an attack.

“Cultural heritage has the power to unite us and is critical for achieving peace,” said Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, which operates the Getty Center and the Getty Villa. “Protecting and preserving our cultural heritage is a core value of civilized societies, including our own.”

In a Pentagon briefing Monday, Esper was asked if cultural sites would be targeted as Trump had suggested over the weekend.

“We will follow the laws of armed conflict,” Esper said. When a reporter asked if that meant no because the laws of war prohibit targeting cultural sites, Esper agreed.

“That’s the laws of armed conflict,” Esper said.

Trump tweeted Saturday “…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!”

Cuno called the contemplation of targeting cultural sites “tragic,” stating “we should be celebrating its existence, working to enhance protections and strengthen our international laws, and moving toward a more textured understanding of the world’s ancient cultures and their contributions to our shared experience.”

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