President Trump, in a tweet in capital letters late Sunday, warned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that if Iran threatened the United States again, it would face severe consequences.
Trump’s message came after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would step up broadcasts into Iran critical of the country’s theocratic rulers.
“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!” Trump tweeted.
Iran’s state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) replied within hours, dismissing Trump’s tweet and describing it as a “passive reaction” to Rouhani’s remarks.
Earlier Sunday, Rouhani said the United States should avoid inciting Iranians against the government as the Trump administration is poised to reimpose sanctions suspended under a 2015 nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from in May.
“America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani told a meeting of Iranian diplomats, according to IRNA.
“You are not in a position to incite the Iranian nation against Iran’s security and interests,” Rouhani said.
Brig. Gen. Gholam Hossein Gheibparvar, head of the Revolutionary Guard’s paramilitary Basij force, said the United States “won’t dare” take military action against Iran, whose missiles can hit most of the Middle East. Iran also controls part of the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow passageway for all Persian Gulf oil tanker traffic.
The escalation of bellicose rhetoric comes just three weeks before the reimposition of the first round of banking sanctions that were suspended under the nuclear deal. Bigger sanctions, which are scheduled to take effect in November, are aimed at cutting off virtually all of Iran’s oil market.
Pompeo on Sunday launched a harsh attack on Iran’s clerical and military rulers, calling them a kleptocracy akin to the Mafia.
“The level of corruption and wealth among regime leaders shows that Iran is run by something that resembles the Mafia more than a government,” he said in a speech to a largely Iranian American audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Pompeo was introduced by Frederick J. Ryan Jr., publisher of The Washington Post and chairman of the Ronald Reagan Foundation.
Pompeo said the administration has concluded that Tehran has no statesmen willing to moderate its policies, a sharp break from the Obama administration, which negotiated the nuclear deal hoping that an improving economy would give relative pragmatists such as Rouhani a boost.
But Pompeo said Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are “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.” He referred to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Pompeo stopped short of calling for regime change, but he announced stepped-up U.S. government broadcasting in Farsi that is likely to foment further unrest against the government.
He said the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors is taking steps to circumvent Internet censorship in Iran and creating a round-the-clock Farsi channel across television, radio, digital and social media formats, “so that ordinary Iranians inside Iran and around the globe will know that America stands with them.”
When a member of the audience asked him whether the Iranian people might gain control of their country in the foreseeable future, Pompeo replied swiftly, “Of course.”
“We don’t know the right moment,” he said. “We don’t know the day that the behavior of the regime will change. But we do know the things that the world is obligated to do, so that when the right time comes, when the right moment comes, that opportunity is even more likely to find its fulfillment.”
Pompeo said the Trump administration would be willing to hold talks with the Iranian government if it stops repressing dissidents and religious minorities and stops supporting militant groups in conflicts elsewhere in the region. But the one-sentence offer in a long speech suggested that Pompeo deems any behavior change by Iran unlikely.
Many of the Iranian Americans in the audience either fled or are descendants of those who fled the country after the Islamic Revolution toppled the U.S.-backed shah in 1979. Southern California is home to about 250,000 Iranian Americans.
“To our Iranian American and Iranian friends,” Pompeo said, “tonight I tell you that the Trump administration dreams the same dreams for the people of Iran as you do, and through our labors and God’s providence, that day will come true.”
Several members of the Trump administration and Trump’s circle have been outspoken hawks on Iran. Before joining the White House, national security adviser John R. Bolton called for the overthrow of the Iranian government. Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, has given paid speeches to the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), a controversial dissident group that the State Department listed as a terrorist group until 2012. On Sunday, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, retweeted a three-day-old posting from the official account of the MEK.
Pompeo’s remarks Sunday reprised his criticism of the Iranian government, but on a deeply personal level that is likely to be repeated in the U.S. government broadcasts into Iran.
He lit into what he called Iran’s “hypocritical holy men,” saying the ruling elites have enriched themselves through corruption, and called out officials by name who he said had plundered government coffers through embezzlement or by winning lucrative contracts.
He cited “the billionaire general,” Interior Minister Sadegh Mahsouli; Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, the “Sultan of Sugar”; and Sadeq Ardeshir Larijani, the head of Iran’s judiciary, whom he said had embezzled $300 million in public money.
“Call me crazy,” Pompeo said, “but I’m a little skeptical that a thieving thug under international sanctions is the right man to be Iran’s highest-ranking judicial official.”
He also accused Khamenei of presiding over a $95 billion “slush fund” for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Pompeo blamed the government for Iran’s economic woes, which have led to anti-government protests nationwide.
“The bitter irony of the economic situation in Iran is that the regime uses its time to line its own pockets while its people cry out for jobs, reform and opportunity,” Pompeo said. “The Iranian economy is going great — but only if you’re a politically connected member of the elite.”
Some analysts said the administration's stance is putting the United States on the road to a direct confrontation with the Islamic Republic, with which Washington formally severed diplomatic relations in April 1980 during the Iran hostage crisis.
“Mike Pompeo removed all doubt today that the aim of the Trump administration is confrontation with Iran — not a better nuclear deal or new negotiations,” Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, said in a statement. “The Trump administration’s actions and words are simply not compatible with any policy other than fomenting unrest in and destabilizing Iran.”
Mark Dubowitz, head of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a leading critic of Iran and the 2015 nuclear deal, called Pompeo’s remarks a “powerful indictment of a corrupt and repressive regime” and suggested that U.S. support will help lead to the demise of the theocratic government.
“It framed the secretary’s Reaganesque approach to confronting the Islamic Republic of Iran and his conviction that, with U.S. support, the demand of Iranians for freedom and democracy will leave the Islamic Republic on the ash heap of history as it left the Soviet Union,” he said.
Brian Murphy contributed to this report.