U.S. President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” last August, in a bellicose threat aimed at dictator Kim Jong Un, whom the president derided as “Little Rocket Man.”
Ten months later, Trump and Kim were all smiles as they met for a historic face-to-face summit in Singapore, after which the president claimed to have a “special bond” with North Korea’s dictator.
If Trump is expecting the same kind of military threats to bring a similar turnaround with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, there’s a good chance he’ll be disappointed.
Trump blasted Rouhani in an all-caps rant on Twitter late Sunday night, after Rouhani publicly addressed looming U.S. oil sanctions.
“America must understand that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani said Sunday.
“NEVER EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE,” Trump tweeted later that night, in a tweet addressed to Rouhani.
But while both sides sound like they’re spoiling for a fight, experts say neither has an appetite for military conflict. Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons to use for its defence, while Washington is likely to shy away from any undertaking that resembles the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In other words, neither the U.S. nor Iran wants to call the other’s bluff on the battlefield.
WATCH BELOW: Trump suggests cancelled Iran deal has advanced Middle East Peace Plan
Prominent Iranian analyst Seed Leilaz downplayed the war of words on Monday, saying he thinks it was “the storm before the calm.”
Leilaz told The Associated Press (AP) he was not “worried about the remarks and tweets,” and that “neither Iran, nor any other country is interested in escalating tensions in the region.”
Nevertheless, Lebanese analyst Kamel Wazne says both sides must exercise caution to avoid forcing a confrontation.
“It needs just one mistake to have a major regional war,” Wazne, director of the American Strategic Studies Institute in Beirut, told AP.
“Iran has said very clearly that any war with them will be very costly, and that means American bases throughout the region could be a target,” he said.
WATCH BELOW: Rouhani warns U.S. of ‘mother of all wars’
The art of the dealbreaker
Iran has faced increased U.S. pressure since Trump’s decision in May to withdraw the United States from the multilateral nuclear deal signed in 2015, which sought to freeze Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.
The deal opened Iran up to foreign investment, but Trump slammed the door on that progress by de-certifying the deal and promising to re-impose sanctions.
With the economic pressure, Trump said earlier this month that “at a certain point they’re going to call me and say ‘let’s make a deal,’ and we’ll make a deal.”
Wazne says Iran can’t trust the U.S. after Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal.
On Sunday, Rouhani suggested Iran could immediately ramp up its production of uranium in response to U.S. pressure. Potentially that would escalate the very situation the nuclear deal sought to avoid — an Iran with a stockpile of enriched uranium that could lead to making atomic bombs.
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However, Iran isn’t nearly as close to launching a nuclear weapon as North Korea, making it less of an immediate military priority.
Rouhani also doesn’t have the same power as Kim to single-handedly shift his country’s foreign policy. The Iranian president is beholden to a nation run by religious and political elites, with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at its head.
Those elites have temporarily rallied around Rouhani in the face of Trump’s threats, but that solidarity is unlikely to last forever.
Rouhani’s hardline rivals oppose the nuclear deal he signed with Western nations in 2015, and would likely celebrate its demise if it meant isolating Iran from outside influences.
Supreme Leader Khamenei on Saturday ruled out negotiations with the United States as an “obvious mistake.”
It all means Rouhani can’t simply strike a president-to-president deal with Trump, no matter how hard Trump tries to bully him into doing so.
— With files from Reuters and The Associated Press