US ratchets up Iran pressure after Trump’s tweets

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s explosive twitter threat to Iran’s leader comes as his administration is ratcheting up a pressure campaign on the Islamic republic that many suspect is aimed at regime change.

No one is predicting imminent war. But Trump’s bellicose, all-caps challenge addressed to President Hassan Rouhani followed a speech by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which he accused Iran’s leadership of massive corruption and widespread rights abuses and urged Iranians to rise up in protest.

Both the tweet and the speech landed less than two weeks before the administration will begin re-imposing sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal.

Trump’s tweet doesn’t appear to have been prompted by any notable shift in rhetoric from Iran.

Iran publicly shrugged off Trump’s late Sunday message: “NEVER EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.”

Tweeted Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday: “COLOR US UNIMPRESSED: The world heard even harsher bluster a few months ago. And Iranians have heard them –albeit more civilized ones — for 40 yrs. We’ve been around for millennia & seen fall of empires, incl our own, which lasted more than the life of some countries. BE CAUTIOUS!”

Asked at the White House if he had concerns about provoking Iran, Trump said simply, “None at all.”

As Pompeo noted in his speech to Iranian-Americans and others in California on Sunday, the centerpiece will be the re-imposition of U.S. economic sanctions; the first batch will go back into force on Aug. 4, targeting the Iranian automotive sector and trade in gold and other metals. A more significant set that will hit Iran’s oil industry and central bank by punishing countries and companies that do business with them will resume on Nov. 4.

Reaction from Congress, particularly Democrats, was swift and critical. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine called Trump’s Twitter blast “another warning sign that Trump is blundering toward war with Iran.”