U.S.-Iran Jousting Moves to Twitter

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. 


Tanker Tiff

On August 30, Pompeo accused Zarif of lying to British authorities about the ultimate destination of the tanker. 


Zarif shot back the next day. 


Sanctions Spat

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. 


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. 


'Uncivil' Debate

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.


Zarif zeroed in on Pompeo’s language. He called out the United States for breaching the nuclear agreement and for its involvement in Yemen. 


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.”


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.