The tweet capped off what was one of Trump’s worst weeks in foreign policy since becoming president and is a marker of escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran. Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in May, and in June, the administration said it would impose sanctions on all Iranian oil importers by the fall. Officials have since moderated that demand.
Trump’s Sunday tweet, which seemed to arrive almost out of nowhere, was an all-caps declaration of potential dire consequences for Iran. “We are no longer a country that will stand your demented words of violence [and] death,” Trump tweeted. “Be cautious!”
To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2018
The tweet was apparently a reaction to a televised speech Rouhani delivered earlier on Sunday, in which he warned that peace between the US and Iran would be the “mother of all peace” and confrontation between the two would be the “mother of all wars.”
“Do not play with the lion’s tail or else you will regret it,” he said.
Rouhani’s speech was itself reportedly a reaction to a wave of speeches and online communications the Trump administration had launched to destabilize Iran and pressure it to end its nuclear program.
Prior to Trump’s Sunday tweet, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered remarks at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, where he took aim at the Iranian regime. “The level of corruption and wealth among regime leaders shows that Iran is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government,” Pompeo said.
Iran’s state-owned news agency IRNA brushed aside Trump’s tweet and described it as a “passive reaction” to Rouhani’s remarks, according to the Associated Press. It also said Trump was copying Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who in the past warned the West to “never threaten an Iranian.”
A senior officer in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Commander General Gholam Hossein Gheybparvr, called Trump’s remarks “psychological warfare,” according to the student news agency ISNA, per Reuters. He said Trump cannot “do a damn thing against Iran.”
The international community reacted as well. A spokesperson for Germany’s foreign ministry said threats of war are “never helpful.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump for his “strong stance” on Iran.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders backed up Trump’s assertions, saying, “if anybody’s inciting anything, look no further than to Iran.”
Trump used to talk about Obama attacking Iran as a distraction
The timing of Trump’s Iran threat is curious, as it lands after a week of criticisms of his performance at the summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Before arriving at the White House, Trump said on multiple occasions he believed President Barack Obama would initiate conflict with Iran to shift attention away from other weaknesses.
Remember what I previously said--Obama will someday attack Iran in order to show how tough he is.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 25, 2013
I predict that President Obama will at some point attack Iran in order to save face!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 16, 2013
Remember that I predicted a long time ago that President Obama will attack Iran because of his inability to negotiate properly-not skilled!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2013
Trump’s tweeted threat to Iran has echoes of his treatment of North Korea. Last year, he warned Pyongyang that if there were any more threats against the US, they would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” He also went after the regime on Twitter.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
Trump could be attempting the same tactic with Iran, but since he already pulled out of the Iran deal, what he’s trying to get out of his rhetoric is unclear. On Monday morning, he celebrated on Twitter the fact that North Korea hasn’t launched a rocket in months.
A Rocket has not been launched by North Korea in 9 months. Likewise, no Nuclear Tests. Japan is happy, all of Asia is happy. But the Fake News is saying, without ever asking me (always anonymous sources), that I am angry because it is not going fast enough. Wrong, very happy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2018