Is Hassan Rouhani the new Kim Jong Un? The Nation columnist

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani (right) speaking during a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, on Aug 15, 2018.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani (right) speaking during a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, on Aug 15, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In his article, the writer cautions about the tensions building up over dealings with Iran.

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Don't bet against US President Donald Trump Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani becoming best pals, hugging each other on a major world stage.

We have seen what happened to Kim Jong Un, who had been ridiculed, vilified and dared to a nuclear showdown by the president of the United States, before both of them strolled along together like newlyweds.

Actually, it has become kind of boring.

Boring - but not excusable.

For starters, cowboy diplomacy is not good for world peace, something the United States has always vowed to protect.

North Korea has not called America's bluff, and neither will Iran, but the world shouldn't have to face even the slightest risk when it's totally preventable.

Trump isn't known for reaching out to countries he has problems with, and yet his latest tweet on Iran still made peace advocates squirm.

"Never, ever threaten the United States again," his all-caps message to the Iranian President said.

"Or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before."

Let that sink in.

It was a provocative statement to someone the US government itself claimed could go out of control with nuclear weapons in his possession.

The tweet was also sent as Trump issued an unmistakable "us or them" threat to trade partners and political allies, who must be shaking their heads at the familiar US arm-twisting of its friends.

In what could bring back the memories of circumstances prior to the invasion of Iraq, Trump said his government was fully committed to ensuring that everyone complies with their renewed trade sanctions against Iran.

"We will work closely with nations conducting business with Iran to ensure complete compliance. Individuals or entities that fail to wind down activities with Iran risk severe consequences," he insisted.

Iran called it "American bullying".

Whether the European Union, deep down inside, really feels the same is anyone's guess, but diplomatic gossip must be spreading across the continent regarding Trump's latest insensitivity towards "smaller" buddies.

America's renewed sanctions and threat to strictly enforce them stem from the age-old issue of nuclear proliferation.

Trump's administration claims the carrot approach wouldn't work with Iran regarding its nuclear ambitions and that only tough and concerted trade sanctions can bring about global benefits.

So, after telling the world it should fear North Korea, saying the US had bigger and better nuclear missiles, then cooling his attacks on Pyongyang following his apparently amicable summit with Kim, Trump has a new focus in Iran, portraying it as a villain that must be stopped.

The sanctions, according to US officials, will remain in place until Teheran ends its support for extremists and its enrichment of uranium.

Reports say harsher sanctions will likely follow in November and involve oil exports and shipping blockades.

China, India and Turkey, to varying degrees, are prepared to defy some sanctions.

The EU, Britain, France and Germany have said they "deeply regret" the re-imposition of sanctions and "are determined" to protect European operators engaged in legitimate business with Iran.

When push comes to shove, who will have his way is not hard to predict.

Trump is not the first American leader to invoke "us or them" to force allies' hands.

The same approach was used in 2001 when terrorists could easily be portrayed as a global scourge and the US went after countries believed to support them.

That military campaign never achieved universal support, but it was carried out all the same, creating more questions than were answered.

Trump announced the US withdrawal from a nuclear pact with Iran in May.

The 2015 pact, negotiated by Barack Obama alongside Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China, lifted sanctions on Teheran in return for a freeze on its nuclear programme.

Trump now insists that leniency isn't working, and hence the return to sanctions.

In dealing with Iran, Trump suggested his country was getting tough and would no longer be pushed around.

It is a strange assertion, especially considering that America has always got its way and others were often on the receiving end.

Criticism of the United States, however, should no longer focus on harmless hypocrisy.

World peace should be given top priority in all analyses, and no analyst rates Trump's tendencies highly when global harmony is concerned.

The point is not whether Rouhani is a heinous zealot, as Trump charges.

The point is how can Trump provoke a heavily armed national leader whom he's accused of being crazy and zealous?

First of all, it's unfair to Rouhani if he's not the man he's being portrayed to be.

Second, if he is what Trump claims him to be, it's absolutely unwise to provoke him.

The world's best hope rests on Rouhani becoming the Kim Jong Un we saw at the summit with Trump.

Trump waves his stick and follows up with a carrot, in the form of offering to talk, though Rouhani has so far spurned that idea.

A not-so-pleasant scenario has the Iranian and North Korean leaders arranging a summit of their own and talking like girls gossiping about their boyfriends, during which anything could happen.

The writer, a former journalist, comments regularly on current affairs. The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media.