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Iran Seems To Be Dismissing President Trump's Threatening Tweet


Leaders in Iran seem to be dismissing President Trump's threatening Sunday night tweet. The head of Iran's judiciary described the comments as the, quote, "words of a troublemaker." The president tweeted that Iran risked dire consequences, quote, "the likes of which few throughout history have suffered before" if it made threats against the United States. NPR's Peter Kenyon is following the story and joins us now. Good morning, Peter.


MARTIN: How do you read Iran's response to President Trump? Would you consider this to be an escalation?

KENYON: Well, it's the latest in rhetorical back-and-forth that's been going on since early May. That's when President Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal. These American sanctions that were lifted under the agreement are now coming back. Banking sanctions come back in about two weeks. Then in early November, U.S. oil sanctions are supposed to kick in. Tehran's working with the other five countries in the deal still to try and keep trade going - not clear how successful that will be yet. Iran is trying to portray the U.S. as isolated. That's part of this back-and-forth. But the rhetoric just keeps escalating as the return of sanctions gets nearer.

MARTIN: As you note, I mean, the Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. And really since then, the U.S. has been pressuring other countries to stop importing Iranian oil. There has been a development on this this morning. What can you tell us?

KENYON: Well, the latest response from Iran has come from the Foreign Ministry. A spokesperson there says if the U.S. does get serious about reducing Iran's oil exports - Secretary of State Pompeo has said the goal is to reduce it to zero - then the spokesperson says Iran will respond with, what he calls, equal countermeasures. Not entirely clear, but that's probably a reference to the Strait of Hormuz. A lot of oil goes through there every day. And again, so far, this is at the level of a threat not action. But it certainly has the attention of world oil markets. And meanwhile, some countries, responding to U.S. pressure, are beginning to reduce their oil imports from Iran. So things are moving.

MARTIN: So how do Iranians feel about the U.S. right now? If you talk about the fact that Iran is just - it's trying to make do, trying to make the nuclear deal work with the allies who are left in it and to just minimize the effect of the U.S. withdrawal. How do Iranians perceive the U.S. in this moment?

KENYON: Well, a lot of Iranians are disappointed in the shift from the Obama administration, which wanted to work with Iran, and the Trump administration, which clearly does not - which wants to return to maximum pressure in hope of extracting concessions. It's the kind of language Iran's hard-liners understand perfectly. In many ways, despite their different starting points, the Trump administration and Iran's hard-liners think alike.

MARTIN: What about more broadly throughout the region? I mean, when you look at this now intensifying rhetoric between President Trump and members of Iran's government, does this make regional allies, regional neighbors feel nervous?

KENYON: Well, it does, of course, because you've got support continuing for Washington from the strongest two regional allies - Israel and Saudi Arabia - and varying degrees of concern in all the other countries. It's not clear what they could do as this hostility keeps ramping up. But obviously, they're paying attention quite closely.

MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon for us this morning. Peter, thanks so much.

KENYON: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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