National Security Adviser John Bolton entered the escalating war of words between President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday by confirming that Trump is prepared to make Iran “pay a price” for any “negative” actions it takes.
“I spoke to the President 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,” Bolton told reporters on Monday morning.
Bolton was referring to a tweet posted by President Trump on Sunday evening:
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
Trump, in turn, was responding to a message Rouhani delivered to a group of Iranian diplomats on Sunday: “Mr. Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret. America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”
Rouhani’s threats were evidently prompted by a story Reuters published on Saturday quoting U.S. officials who said the Trump administration has launched an “offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and help pressure Iran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups.”
The campaign is reportedly spearheaded by Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo has expressed support for the Iranian political opposition, most recently in a speech entitled “Supporting Iranian Voices” that he delivered on Sunday at the Reagan Presidential Library in California.
The State Department insists its goal is not regime change, but modification of the Iranian regime’s behavior, a theme Pompeo stressed in his speech Sunday. He said President Trump is “willing to talk to the regime in Tehran” if it changes but added there have been few encouraging signs of change thus far.
On the contrary, Pompeo highlighted the belligerence of Iranian rhetoric, including President Rouhani’s “war with Iran is the mother of all wars” threat earlier in the day. Pompeo called out the Iranian leadership as “hypocritical holy men” who are “driven by a desire to confirm all of Iranian society to the tenets of the Iranian revolution.
Pompeo bitingly dismissed Iranian “moderates,” essential to the Obama administration’s Iran strategy and the nuclear deal, as “unicorns” and mere “polished frontmen for the ayatollah’s con-artistry.”
“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, spotlighting a hedge fund owned personally by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, valued at $95 billion.
“If anybody’s inciting anything, look no further than Iran,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday, adding that President Trump has been “very clear about what he’s not going to allow to take place.”
Sanders’ remarks suggest there could be something more than rhetoric at work, possibly some U.S. intelligence that Iran is planning violent action to protect its oil interests, persuade European powers to give in to Iranian demands under the nuclear deal, or retaliate against the United States for pulling out of the deal.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised President Trump for his “strong stance” on Iran after Trump wrote his tweet to Rouhani. Netanyahu said it was important to stand against “Iranian aggression” after years in which the regime in Tehran was “pampered by world powers.”