Amid diplomacy to bring their presidents together, the United States and Iran have been talking to each other--on Twitter. The tone varies from taunting to caustic banter. Top officials often tag each other in their posts. They sometimes even address each other personally. The subjects vary from oil tankers to YouTube.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have particularly taken to calling each other out. In August 2019, they poked one another as tensions flared over an Iranian oil tanker heading for Syria in violation of U.N. sanctions on Damascus.
On August 30, Pompeo accused Zarif of lying to British authorities about the ultimate destination of the tanker.
FM @JZarif guaranteed to the UK that the IRGC oil tanker #Grace1 / #AdrianDarya1 would not head to Syria. We have reliable information that the tanker is underway and headed to Tartus, Syria. I hope it changes course. It was a big mistake to trust Zarif. pic.twitter.com/ZJ06MWjvCO— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) August 30, 2019
Zarif shot back the next day.
US denied us means of defense: We built missiles & US complains.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) August 31, 2019
US denied us nuclear fuel: We made it & US complains.
Now US engages in piracy & threats to prevent Iran from selling oil to traditional customers.
Stop nagging @SecPompeo: We will sell oil to any & all buyers.
Other officials soon joined the virtual fray. On September 4, then National Security Advisor John Bolton posted about the Trump administration’s $15 million reward for information about illicit Iranian shipping.
Calling all bankers, traders, ship captains, and crews: today’s expansion of @Rewards4Justice adds another tool to stop oil-for-cash schemes used by the IRGC and Quds Force to fund global terrorism. https://t.co/rL8GqBLZzF— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) September 4, 2019
Zarif blasted Bolton as part of the so-called “#BTeamGangsters” – a term he had previously used to describe hawks on Iran policy in the U.S., Israeli and Saudi governments.
Having failed at piracy, the US resorts to outright blackmail—deliver us Iran’s oil and receive several million dollars or be sanctioned yourself.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) September 4, 2019
Sounds very similar to the Oval Office invitation I received a few weeks back.
It is becoming a pattern.#BTeamGangsters pic.twitter.com/B1oQTLghWZ
The two nations also sparred on Twitter over Iran’s nuclear program. On September 6, Pompeo suggested Iran should not be considered a “civilized nation” after Tehran declared it would breach limits on nuclear activity prohibited by the JCPOA.
We are confident that the UK, France, and Germany - indeed, all civilized nations - will take decisive actions to stop Iran's nuclear extortion.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 6, 2019
Zarif zeroed in on Pompeo’s language. He called out the United States for breaching the nuclear agreement and for its involvement in Yemen.
What exactly is EXTORTION, @SecPompeo?— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) September 7, 2019
Is it violating a UN resolution & punishing anyone observing it?
Offering bribes for theft of oil & designating those who refuse?
Maybe it’s demanding Iran's submission or its people starve?
Is it lawful remedial measures under JCPOA? pic.twitter.com/bZxOmWs8RR
Do you even know what CIVILIZED means, @SecPompeo?— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) September 7, 2019
Is it sending drones over weddings to kill innocents?
Piracy on the high seas?
Maybe it’s pouring lethal weapons into a region to enable inhuman wars?
Or, is it a millennia-old nation that hasn’t attacked anyone for centuries?
Zarif’s criticism triggered a U.S. response. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus listed a litany of Iranian human rights violations and doubled down on the administration’s assertion Iran was not “civilized.”
Does the FM of the world’s top sponsor of terrorism consider hanging gays from cranes, stoning women, repressing minorities, allowing 9-year-old girls to be married off & jailing protestors of the compulsory hijab civilized? No wonder the Iranian people hate this backward regime. https://t.co/uFSb441r3P— Morgan Ortagus (@statedeptspox) September 7, 2019
Notably missing from the fracas have been the two presidents themselves – Donald Trump and Hassan Rouhani. Both abstained from tweeting about tensions related to the released oil tanker or Iran’s nuclear announcement.
Andrew Hanna, a research assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace, contributed to this roundup.