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White House Says Iran Must Change Its Behavior Or Face The Consequences


The White House says Iran must change its behavior or face the consequences. President Trump has taken a tough line on Iran since he took office. And late last night, he posted a tweet in all caps warning that Iran will suffer like few other countries have suffered if they keep threatening the U.S. This tweet came after a pointed speech last night about Iran by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He spoke at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.


MIKE POMPEO: Right now the United States is undertaking a diplomatic and financial pressure campaign to cut off the funds that the regime uses to enrich itself and support death and destruction.


SHAPIRO: NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe joins us here in the studio to talk about this. Hi, Ayesha.


SHAPIRO: Why is this conversation about Iran happening now?

RASCOE: We don't know exactly why the White House is talking up Iran right now, but it does seem like a coordinated effort. Pompeo's speech seemed aimed at sending this message to the Iranian people that the U.S. is with them and the U.S. is with those in Iran who are protesting their leadership. After that speech from Pompeo, we had this tweet from Trump saying the U.S. will not allow Iran to threaten the - the U.S. will not allow Iran to threaten the U.S.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president's been I think pretty strong since day one in his language towards Iran. He was responding to comments made from them, and he's going to continue to focus on the safety and security of American people.

RASCOE: Trump had already pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, and the U.S. is preparing to reimpose sanctions that were lifted under that deal soon.

SHAPIRO: That was press secretary Sarah Sanders there. The language that Trump used in his tweet sounded a lot like the kind of language he was using against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before those two leaders ultimately sat down for talks. Is the White House trying to do the same sort of thing here and get Iran to the negotiating table?

RASCOE: It seems that that could be the case, but Sanders was asked this multiple times during the White House briefing, and she said she wouldn't talk about White House strategy. But you're right. The language is very similar to that fire and fury rhetoric that Trump used on North Korea. Of course there are differences in this situation. Iran has a much more complex political system. You're not just appealing to a dictator like Kim. And also with North Korea, there was a more united front among our international allies in holding these sanctions and holding North Korea kind of to the fire. But with Iran, you have the U.S. kind of split from European allies who wanted the U.S. to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.

SHAPIRO: How does President Trump's tough approach to Iran fit with this broader idea of America first?

RASCOE: Well, the White House argues that this is all about keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. The move to support Iranian protesters is something that kind of traditional conservatives have supported in the past. The risk with all of this, though, is that you draw the U.S. into a military conflict in the Middle East. And that is something that Trump has in the past seemed that he wants to withdraw from overseas and kind of save that money and not get involved. On the campaign trail, Trump constantly talked about the Iraq war and what a mistake that was. So it would seem on that basis that you wouldn't want to get involved in another long-term conflict in the Middle East.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe, thanks a lot.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.