Middle East scholars relieved at easing tensions, concerned over Trump's threats to cultural sites

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Before backing off his threats to escalate conflict with Iran, President Donald Trump tweeted that culturally significant Iranian sites could be targeted by American airstrikes.

The tweet did not name specific locations, but addressed sites that were "very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture."

Attacks against civilian locations, including cultural sites, have been designated an international war crime. And Defense Secretary Mark Esper contradicted President Trump over the weekend, saying, "We will follow the laws of armed conflict."

President Trump backed away from the threat of military retaliation today, in a speech responding to Iran's missile strikes on two U.S. bases in Iraq.

At the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, Middle East scholars were still "deeply dismayed and disappointed" to see that threat.

"We're heartened by the public and international outcry, and relieved that some of these threats have been walked back in recent days," said Christopher Woods, director of the Oriental Institute.

The Oriental Institute holds one of the largest collections of ancient Persian artifacts in the world, and first excavated the city of Persepolis in the 1930s.

"The cultural heritage of this region is paramount to us. We've spent our entire careers illuminating and understanding this cultural heritage. So obviously we want to see it protected," Woods said.

"That can only really happen in a time of peace. So we're hopeful that the worst is behind us and now we can enter into a period of de-escalation."
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