UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has launched an uncharacteristic criticism on Monday against US President Donald Trump’s threat to hit 52 Iranian cultural sites in the event of an outbreak of conflict.
“There are international conventions in place that prevent the destruction of cultural heritage,” said a spokesperson for the prime minister.
Downing Street refused to label the potential attack as a war crime however and issued a statement of approval to the US for the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
The spokesperson pointed out the international rules of war which are contained in the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, prohibiting states from attacking protected sites.
When asked if the UK accepted the US' stated justification that the attack was preemptive, 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."
He stressed that news of Iran dropping all limitations on uranium enrichment within the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), designed to limit Iranian nuclear capacity, was deeply concerning and that it "is in everyone's interests that the deal remains in place".
Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a statement on Sunday where he called for the "de-escalation" of tensions between the US and Iran, but also said that he would not "lament" the death of General Soleimani.
The statement comes after a drone strike by the US on Friday which killed General Soleimani in Baghdad, approved personally by President Trump.
The operation took place in Baghdad in the early hours of Friday as Soleimani was leaving Baghdad airport.
Following the attack, President Trump cautioned Iran on Twitter that if they retaliate and harm any US servicemen or citizens he will target 52 sites in Iran, some of which are of cultural importance to the country.
Despite Boris Johnson taking a more pro-US line since taking office, he is still dedicated to maintaining the JCPOA, which Trump is adamantly opposed to.
The UK finds itself in a predicament however as it gears up to leave the European Union at the end of January.
A trade deal with the US has been long in the works and may be essential if the UK leaves by the end of the 11-month transition period in 2020.
However, the US has made it clear in recent months that it is willing to use the necessity for a Brexit deal as blackmail to get the UK to follow suit on in its trade war against China.
In July, President Trump told the UK that there would be no post-Brexit trade deal if it permits Chinese tech giant Huawei, which the US alleges is a front for the ruling Communist Party, to have access to UK 5G infrastructure.