ISTANBUL — Iranian officials accused the White House of waging “psychological warfare” and vowed Monday to resist any U.S. efforts to destabilize their government, after stark warnings by President Trump’s against perceived Iranian threats.
The rapid backlash from Tehran marked some of the harshest exchanges between Iran’s leadership and Washington since the Trump administration exited the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May and moved to reimpose sanctions on Iran.
It also showed the widening gulf between the United States and other world powers that were part of the nuclear accord, which eased international economic pressures on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
European nations and others are now struggling to keep the nuclear accord alive and maintain economic ties with Iran.
The late-night missive from Trump was in response to earlier remarks from Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, in which he said that war with Iran would be “the mother of all wars.” He also said the United States “must realize that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace,” Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported.
Trump fired back in all capitals, saying that Iran would “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!” he wrote.
The saber-rattling caused Iran’s currency, the rial, to plunge to a record low against the dollar Monday, observers said.
The Trump administration has announced new efforts to try to undermine Iran’s government, including social media messaging and a round-the-clock Persian-language broadcast channel.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the new initiative Sunday night during a speech to a crowd of Iranian Americans in California. In the past, U.S.-funded media efforts in Iran have had little impact and reached only a small audience.
The United States is also set to reimpose harsh sanctions after withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran and world powers earlier this year. That agreement, which was negotiated by the Obama administration, curbed elements of Iran’s atomic energy program that raised proliferation concerns in exchange for an end to restrictions on Iran’s oil exports and banking system.
But Trump has slammed the accord, calling it “the worst deal ever.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Qassemi, said Monday that Pompeo’s speech, in which he likened Iran’s rulers to the Mafia, “was hypocritical and absurd.”
“These remarks are a clear example of [U.S.] interference in Iran’s internal affairs,” Tasnim quoted Qassemi as saying.
But the harshest words came from Iran’s hard-liners, including Revolutionary Guard commanders.
“We will never abandon our revolutionary beliefs. We will resist pressure from enemies,” the head of Iran’s paramilitary Basij force, Gholamhossein Gheybparvar, said Monday, the Reuters news agency reported. The comments were carried by the Iranian Students’ News Agency.
“Trump cannot do a damn thing against Iran,” he said. He dismissed Trump’s salvos as “psychological warfare.”
Another warning came from Mohsen Rezaei, chairman of Iran’s Expediency Council, an advisory body to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
He said Trump is the one who should be cautious, warning that Iran has “50,000 forces” under its command, in an apparent reference to the tens of thousands of proxy forces that Iran supports in the region. The pro-Iranian groups include Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has waged battles with Israel in the past.
Military experts have long warned that Iran could use such militias to attack U.S. troops in places such as Iraq and Syria. Skirmishes this year between Israel and the Revolutionary Guard and its proxies have already raised the specter of war.
Another military commander, Kiomars Heidari, reiterated late Sunday Iran’s threat to block the Strait of Hormuz, a critical waterway for about 30 percent of the world’s oil tanker traffic, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
The strait “should either be safe for everybody or unsafe for everybody,” Tasnim quoted Heidari as saying.
Some Iranians blamed the threat from Iran for causing the rial’s collapse Monday, while others attributed the fall to Trump’s tweet.
“The economy is a very complicated thing. Even Trump’s caps lock can decrease the value of the rial,” said an Iranian Twitter user using the handle @potanciel.
Twitter is blocked in Iran, and Iranians often use software to circumvent the ban. Many refrain from using their full names to avoid detection.
“Mr. Trump, don’t talk with the most nervous people in the world with caps lock on,” Tehran-based Hamid said on Twitter.
Others quipped that the fight between Rouhani and Trump was unfair because there are no capital letters in Persian.
Iran’s government is now “looking for someone to write Rouhani’s reaction in calligraphy,” said U.S.-based author Siamak Mosulmani, referring to the ancient and artistic form of writing.
Speaking on “Fox & Friends” on Monday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Iran is “inciting” tensions.
“The president has been very, very clear, again, since day one what his objectives are, and he’s certainly not going to tolerate the leader of Iran making threats against Americans, making threats against this country, making threats against Israel,” she said.
“This is a president who is going to stand up and make sure he is doing what is necessary. He’s showing peace through strength. If needed, and steps are required, this president is not afraid to take them.”
In Germany — one of the six nations that signed the nuclear deal with Iran — Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger called for “dialogue” rather than belligerence on all sides.
“We call on all sides to exercise restraint and rhetorical disarmament,” he told reporters.
John Wagner and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.