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U.S. Tension With Iran Heats Up After Early Morning Trump Tweet

Jul 23, 2018
Originally published on July 23, 2018 11:47 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump tweeted last night that if Iran threatens the United States, it will suffer consequences like, quote, "few throughout history have ever suffered before." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also criticized Iran using milder language in a speech this weekend. This follows a comment that Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, made this weekend. He warned the U.S. that war with Iran would be, quote, "the mother of all wars." Now, all this is happening as some U.S. sanctions are set to be reimposed on Iran next month as a result of President Trump's decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. NPR's Peter Kenyon is following this story from Istanbul.

Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.

KING: All right, so tell us about this tweet from the president. It's a big one.

KENYON: Well, you could call it the written equivalent of a tirade. In all capital letters, Trump warns Iran to never, ever threaten the United States again or face dire consequences that he didn't spell out. Trump added the U.S. would no longer stand for what he called Iran's, quote, "demented words of violence and death." So while it may have been silent, the threatening tone of the message is pretty clear.

KING: So to be clear, this didn't apparently come out of the blue. President Trump appears to be responding to some things that Iran's president said this weekend. What did he say?

KENYON: Well, that's right. President Hassan Rouhani gave a speech - mainly about Iran's security, its ability to defend itself. But he added a few threats of his own. Here's a little bit of the speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI: (Speaking Persian).

KENYON: Now what he's saying here - besides warning that war with Iran would be the mother of all wars, Rouhani's saying don't play with the lion's tail. You'll regret it. He also referred to the oil shipping lanes, like the Strait of Hormuz - a chokepoint that a large chunk of the world's daily oil passes through - not the first time these threats have been made, not clear Iran really could disrupt oil shipments for any great length of time. U.S. Navy's been on alert for a long time there. But it is the kind of tough, hard-line rhetoric Rouhani's taking to using as tensions mount. And then we had Secretary of State Mike Pompeo getting in on the action too.

KING: Right. He gave this speech in California. He was negative about Iran. But interestingly, he was negative in a very specific way. Can you tell us what he was talking about?

KENYON: Well, he was talking about corruption largely. He said it was riddled with corruption in Iran - from the top leadership, supreme leader, right on down to the IRGC. That's the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in the military. Here's an excerpt from that speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE POMPEO: Ayatollah Khamenei has his own personal off-the-books hedge fund, called the Setad, worth 95 billion - with a B - dollars. That wealth is untaxed. It is ill-gotten. And it is used as a slush fund for the IRGC. The level of corruption and wealth among Iranian leaders shows that Iran is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government.

KENYON: So fairly harsh in its own right - I think you'd agree.

KING: Yeah.

KENYON: He also repeated the Trump administration's desire to cut Iran's oil exports to zero - not clear you can actually do that with China buying oil, among other things. But even a big reduction would really hurt Tehran economically. And he said Iran's leaders must be made to feel painful consequences. So we're waiting to see how that plays out.

KING: All right, NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Thanks, Peter.

KENYON: Thanks, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.