U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while addressing a joint news conference with Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, US, April 30, 2018..
(photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
Has US President Donald Trump had his “fire and fury” moment with the Islamic Republic?
Some have said that a turning point in US-North Korea relations occurred last summer when Trump shocked Pyongyang by threatening nuclear “fire and fury” if it threatened or attacked the US.
Will Trump’s ultimate threat on Sunday against Iran eventually be looked back on as an equivalent tipping-point moment?
Sunday was remarkable even for a president who loves colorful hyperbole and for a US adversary that often has its own colorful rhetoric.
This was the first time that Trump has militarily threatened Iran in such a direct way. The language he used of ultimate destruction sounded strikingly similar to his “fire and fury” threat against North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
Trump tweeted in all capital letters
to Rouhani that if he ever threatened the US again “YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.”
Until now, Trump has made generic statements, like former president Barack Obama, about not letting Iran get a nuclear weapon.
In his May speech about leaving the Iran nuke deal, he said that he would “not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction.” But the punch line was his leaving the deal and imposing sanctions; there was no direct military threat as he had threatened Kim last summer.
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There is no question that Trump’s direct military threat on Sunday was a massive ramping up of pressure and tension.
Will his threat lead to Iran backing down somewhat and showing a greater at least appearance of readiness to compromise in Trump’s direction as occurred with North Korea?
It is interesting to look back at how Trump’s threat against North Korea was viewed in real time.
While a small group of experts applauded his threat as setting a new tone with the North and forcing them to deal with uncertainty instead of the US always taking threats lying down, most experts declared Trump’s “fire and fury” comment as irresponsible and potentially disastrous.
Some said that he was bringing the world to the verge of nuclear holocaust.
“Irresponsibly” threatening North Korea, it turned out, got Pyongyang’s attention in a way that previous US presidents had not.
Iran has been adamant that it will not budge one iota in making new concessions beyond what it negotiated in the 2015 nuclear deal. Negotiations, while the US was in the deal did not change that, nor has Washington’s serious campaign to reimpose sanctions.
Maybe the threat of military confrontation from a man who surprised many by leaving the nuclear deal outright – and who has shown a readiness to fight massive trade wars with the EU and China – might be the only way to get Iran to think differently.
On the other hand, if Iran does not cave, it would seem that Trump’s threat may have made it harder for him or Tehran to backtrack without a military confrontation.
As of late Monday – like North Korea after Trump’s big threat – Iran had not responded. Still, it will take some time before we know whether that means Trump will again surprise experts or whether this time his threat will “blow up.”
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