WASHINGTON -- Sharpened rhetoric from Tehran this week featured threats both old and new against the United States: "decisive," open warfare between Iranian and Western forces, tests of new missile systems and, on Sunday, claims that Iranian naval frigates had set sail for the Atlantic coast of the American homeland.
The reports drew attention from media outlets, but not especially from White House. Similar threats have been made in the past, US officials say, and this recent saber rattling came just in time for the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the Islamic Republic.
On that milestone, celebrated on Tuesday in Tehran, US President Barack Obama spoke from the East Room with French President Francois Hollande not of recent threats from Iran, but of an international consensus unified against their march toward nuclear weapons capacity.
Violators of a global sanctions regime against Iran that dare conduct business in the country while negotiations continue over its nuclear program "do so at their own peril," Obama said, "because we will come down on them like a ton of bricks." Yet on Wednesday, Russia's economy minister announced he would travel to Tehran in late April to discuss a broad range of trade issues, suggesting Iran might indeed be open to business for some.
"The secretary and the president wouldn’t have raised this if they didn’t think that a stronger case still needed to be made," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Tuesday, when asked whether US allies were enforcing sanctions to the satisfaction of the Obama administration.
Russia is one of seven states directly involved in the talks over Iran's expansive nuclear program, along with the US, United Kingdom, France, China, Germany, and Iran itself.
Iran's chief of staff, Hassan Firouzabadi, said on Wednesday that Iranian officials were prepared for a "decisive battle with America and the Zionist regime," referring to Israel.
Firouzabadi said Iran's leadership believes Obama is unwilling to take military action to prevent Iran from progressing its nuclear program, calling such threats "political bluff." Pentagon officials said they have "no evidence" to corroborate claims made on state-run Iranian television that their government had sent warships to the US coast.
Talks between Iran and world powers resume on February 18 in Vienna, where the parties will begin to address core issues of international concern over Iran's nuclear work. Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary for Political Affairs and the chief US negotiator in the talks, left for Europe early on Wednesday to avoid inclement weather in Washington.
Iran has effectively frozen much of its nuclear program in exchange for $7 billion in sanctions relief for a period of six months, as negotiators attempt to forge a final agreement to the longstanding nuclear impasse.