The White House blamed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday for provoking warlike threats from President Trump, as the administration sought to step up economic and political pressure on Iran in a campaign similar to the strategy that brought North Korea to the nuclear bargaining table.
Gearing up to implement tough economic sanctions on an Iranian economy that is already faltering, Mr. Trump and his top advisers also have made it clear to Iran’s leaders in the past two days that the U.S. will no longer sit back quietly in the face of Tehran’s typical “death to America” rhetoric and other threats.
In a tweet shortly before midnight Sunday, Mr. Trump issued an all-caps warning directly to Mr. Rouhani: “NEVER EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKE OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.”
It was reminiscent of Mr. Trump’s “fire and fury” warning to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last summer.
Mr. Trump fired this online shot across the bow after the Iranian leader declared in Tehran, “America must understand well that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”
Liberals accused Mr. Trump of attempting to pivot away from negative media coverage of his summit last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin by threatening war against another longtime U.S. adversary in the Middle East.
“President Trump’s belligerent tweet is another alarming warning sign that he’s blundering toward war with Iran,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat and co-author of a 2015 law that gave Congress the right to review the Iranian nuclear deal before congressional sanctions could be lifted. “The prospect of President Trump starting a catastrophic war should concern us all, and we must be vigilant in stopping it.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Mr. Trump has been tougher on Iran than President Obama since the beginning of his presidency and that his latest comments were consistent with his approach to Tehran, which included pulling out of the nuclear deal last spring.
“The president’s responding to Iran, and he’s not going to allow them to continue to make threats against America,” Mrs. Sanders said. “If anybody is inciting anything, look no further than to Iran.”
Asked by reporters Monday afternoon whether he had any concerns about provoking tensions with Iran, Mr. Trump replied, “None at all.”
Mr. Rouhani scoffed at Mr. Trump’s threat to halt Iranian oil exports and said Iran has a dominant position in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping waterway. Washington later eased its stance, saying it might grant sanction waivers to some allies.
In reaction to Iran’s threats, the U.S. military has renewed its pledge to secure free flow of oil from the strait. However, at least as of last week, the Pentagon said those Iranian threats had not led the U.S. military to reposition or add to forces in the Middle East.
“We haven’t adjusted our force posture in response to any of those statements. And I don’t think that’s warranted. I wouldn’t recommend that,” John Rood, undersecretary of defense for policy, told a security forum in Colorado on Friday.
James Jay Carafano, a national security specialist at The Heritage Foundation, said the president was expressing himself to Tehran “in a uniquely Trumpian manner.”
“No one should doubt the U.S. resolve to protect its interests,” Mr. Carafano said. “The president was not afraid to use force in Syria. Clearly, he would do so here, but only if provoked on the ground — he is not going to be cowed or impressed by threats from Tehran. On the other hand, he is not going to be reckless in the use of force, but I imagine if the Iranians thought about trying something, the tweet was a reminder they won’t get away with it.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is bitterly opposed to Iran, praised Mr. Trump’s “strong stance.” Germany said threats of war were “never helpful.”
With popular discontent over Iran’s faltering economy and sliding currency, and the prospect of tough new U.S. sanctions, Iran’s leaders have called for unity.
The Iranian rial plunged to a record low against the U.S. dollar on the unofficial market on Monday amid fears of military confrontation between Iran and the United States. The dollar was being offered for as much as 92,000 rials, compared with about 75,000 last week.
While Washington prepares to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran after pulling out of the nuclear deal, Iran’s faction-ridden religious and political elites have closed ranks against Mr. Trump’s hawkish approach.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration will never stop calling out Iran for its human rights abuses, religious persecution and fomenting of terrorism.
“Sometimes it seems the world has become desensitized to the regime’s authoritarianism at home and its campaigns of violence abroad, but the proud Iranian people are not staying silent about their government’s many abuses,” Mr. Pompeo said in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California. “And the United States under President Trump will not stay silent either. In light of these 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.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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