Threats increase tensions between Washington, Tehran

Trump said Iran could face dire consequences "the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered" in a late-night tweet.
Tuesday 24/07/2018
U.S. President Donald Trump steps off a bus prior to delivering remarks in Washington, US, July 23, 2018. (Reuters)
U.S. President Donald Trump steps off a bus prior to delivering remarks in Washington, US, July 23, 2018. (Reuters)

BOSTON - US President Donald Trump issued a bellicose threat against Iranian President Hassan Rohani, warning in a late-night tweet written in all capital letters that Iran would face cataclysmic consequences in a war with the United States.

“NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE,” Trump tweeted shortly before midnight July 22. “WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!”

Trump wrote his tweet about an hour after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a major address on Iran and vowed that the United States would staunchly support Iranian protesters, dissidents and religious minorities. Speaking in Los Angeles, which is home to the largest Iranian-American community in the United States, Pompeo appeared to stop just short of urging a popular uprising in Iran.

“In light of these [recent] protests and 40 years of regime tyranny, I have a message for the people of Iran: The United States hears you. The United States supports you. The United States is with you,” Pompeo said to a cheering audience of Iranian-Americans. “When the United States sees the shoots of liberty pushing up through rocky soil, we pledge our solidarity because we, too, took a hard first step towards becoming a free country a few years back.”

Pompeo’s remarks were overshadowed by Trump’s tweet, which was front-page news in the United States and drew incredulous responses from critics.

“It’s dangerous,” US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said. “I think it’s always dangerous when you don’t have a clear foreign policy direction for what we’re trying to accomplish and it certainly elevates the rhetoric against a country that is an aggressor like Iran is [and] that promotes terrorism.”

Shaheen criticised Trump for establishing “foreign policy by tweet” and for pulling the United States out of the Iran nuclear agreement without a plan for dealing with the country.

“We didn’t have a fallback strategy for what we were going to do next and we still don’t,” said Shaheen. “The president needs to consult with his foreign policy advisers and develop an Iran strategy.”

Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, said in a statement that Pompeo “removed all doubt today that the aim of the Trump administration is confrontation with Iran -- not a better nuclear deal or new negotiations. The Trump administration’s actions and words are simply not compatible with any policy other than fomenting unrest in and destabilising Iran.”

Trump’s tweet was an apparent response to a warning from Rohani that a war with Iran would be “the mother of all wars.” Rohani admonished Trump that he should not “play with the lion’s tail because you will regret it eternally.”

Trump has threatened other world leaders with destruction, most notably North Korea's Kim Jong-un, whom he disdained as “rocket man” and warned would have his country destroyed by the US military. Months after Trump made his threats by Twitter, he met with Kim to try to reach an agreement for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme. No deal has been reached.

Pompeo’s speech on Iran covered many of his familiar criticisms of Iranian leaders, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Rohani. He expanded his list to include lesser-known officials, such as Interior Minister Sadegh Mahsouli and Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, accusing both of corruption and self-enrichment.

“These hypocritical holy men have devised all kinds of crooked schemes to become some of the wealthiest men on Earth while their people suffer,” Pompeo said. “The level of corruption and wealth among Iranian leaders shows that Iran is run by something that resembles the Mafia more than a government.”

Pompeo spent much of his speech trying to discredit Iranian leaders to build international support for the United States as it reimposes sanctions on Iran beginning in early August with another set to go into effect in November when the United States will penalise nations that continue to import Iranian oil. The sanctions had been lifted following the 2015 nuclear accord.

“We are asking every nation, every nation who is sick and tired of the Islamic Republic’s destructive behaviour, to join our pressure campaign,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo said that the Broadcasting Board of Governors -- an arm of the US government that runs overseas radio networks such as Voice of America -- is introducing a 24-hour Farsi-language outlet that will broadcast on television, radio and social media “so that the ordinary Iranians inside of Iran and around the globe can know that America stands with them.”