White House blames Iran for war of words

PROTESTS AGAINST REGIME — Protesters against the current Iranian regime stand outside the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum where U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was speaking Sunday, in Simi Valley, Calif. -- Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The White House on Monday blamed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for inciting a war of words with President Donald Trump, who warned that verbal threats could escalate into military conflict with the U.S.

Trump, who campaigned on a promise to bring a more hawkish approach to Iran, sent an all-caps tweet late Sunday warning of dire consequences for the longtime foe. “NEVER EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKE OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE,” he wrote.

Trump was responding to Rouhani, who had remarked earlier in the day that “America must understand well that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”

Within hours, Iran’s state-owned news agency IRNA dismissed the tweet, describing it as a “passive reaction” to Rouhani’s remarks.

On Monday, the White House said Trump’s tweet shows he is not going to tolerate critical rhetoric from Iran and insisted the U.S. leader isn’t escalating tensions between the two countries.

“If anybody’s inciting anything, look no further than to Iran,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said and added that Trump has been “very clear about what he’s not going to allow to take place.”

Sanders declined to say whether Trump had consulted with national security aides, but said “The president consults with his national security team on a daily basis.”

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, echoed Trump’s rhetoric in a statement Monday saying he’s spoken with Trump over the last several days and, “President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before.”

In Tehran, a headline on a local newspaper quoted Rouhani as saying: “Mr. Trump, do not play with the lion’s tail.”

Prominent Iranian analyst Seed Leilaz downplayed the war of words, saying he thinks it was “the storm before the calm.”

Leilaz told The Associated Press he was not “worried about the remarks and tweets,” and that “neither Iran, nor any other country is interested in escalating tensions in the region.”

Citing harsh words the United States and North Korea had exchanged before the high-profile summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Leilaz said Trump and Kim got “closer” despite the warring words.

Trump’s eruption on Twitter came after a week of heavy controversy about Russian meddling in the U.S. 2016 election, following the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The tweet was reverberating across the Mideast. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the U.S. president’s “strong stance” after years in which the Iranian “regime was pampered by world powers.”

Trump earlier this year pulled the U.S. out of the international deal meant to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon and ordered increased American sanctions, as well as threatening penalties for companies from other countries that continue to do business with Iran.

With the economic pressure, Trump said earlier this month that “at a certain point they’re going to call me and say ‘let’s make a deal,’ and we’ll make a deal.”

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