Trump 'not at all' concerned about provoking Iran with threats

Pompeo compares Iran’s leaders to Mafia as White House toughens stance

US president Donald Trump and Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani. Photographs: AFP/Getty Images

US president Donald Trump and Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani. Photographs: AFP/Getty Images

 

Tensions between the United States and Iran have escalated after US president Donald Trump warned the Islamic Republic it would face consequences “the like of which few throughout history have suffered before” if it threatens the United States.

Mr Trump warned Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani in a tweet written entirely in capital letters: “Never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.” He continued: “We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence & death. Be cautious!”

Mr Trump’s tweet appeared to be a response to comments by the Iranian president, when he told a group of Iranian diplomats that “America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.” He also said that the US shouldn’t “play with the lion’s tail”.

Iran’s state-controlled news agency dismissed Mr Trump’s message as “bullying words” and “rhetoric”.

Asked if he was concerned about provoking Iran with his comments ahead of a “Made in America” event in the White House on Monday, Mr Trump replied: “Not at all.”

Lambasted

But in a sign that the tweet reflected a conscious toughening of the US position on Iran, Mr Trump’s tweet came hours after US secretary of state Mike Pompeo lambasted Iran. In comments delivered to a group of Iranian-Americans in California, Mr Pompeo said that “the level of corruption and wealth among regime leaders shows that Iran is run by something that resembles the Mafia more than a government”.

In contrast to the approach of the Obama administration – which viewed Mr Rouhani and foreign minister Javid Zarif as relatively pragmatic politicians with whom they could engage – Mr Pompeo said that both men were “merely polished frontmen for the ayatollah’s international con-artistry. Their nuclear deal didn’t make them moderates; it made them wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

But he stopped short of directly calling for regime change in Iran – something that national security advisor John Bolton has advocated.

Mr Bolton doubled down on the president’s incendiary warning on Monday. “I spoke to the president over the last several days, and president Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before,” he said on Monday.

Mr Trump’s surprise repudiation of Iran in the late-night tweet has echoes of the rhetoric he deployed against North Korea last year when he warned that Pyongyang could face “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if the country provoked the United States. The president ultimately met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for a summit last month in Singapore.

Language

Asked on Monday if the similarity in language meant that Mr Trump would consider sitting down with president Rouhani, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to comment, stressing that the president’s focus was on making sure Iran did not have nuclear weapons.

Oil prices moved sharply higher in response to the rising tension, hitting a session high of $69.31 before falling in later trade.

Iran’s national currency, the rial, also fell to a new low on the news.

Meanwhile, Ms Sanders said Donald Trump is considering revoking the security clearance of several top Barack Obama-era intelligence officials.

She told reporters that former CIA director John Brennan, former FBI director James Comey and former national intelligence director James Clapper could be stripped of their status. “They’ve politicised and in some cases monetised their public service and security clearances,” Ms Sanders said during the daily briefing.

“Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia, or being influenced by Russia, against the president is extremely inappropriate and the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence,” she said.