President Hassan Rouhani of Iran on Tuesday called the White House “mentally retarded,” dismissing the Trump administration’s latest round of economic sanctions as pointless and declaring that Iran would not be intimidated.
The remarks, which Mr. Rouhani made in a televised address, made it more clear than ever that Washington and Tehran remain locked in a standoff despite President Trump’s last-minute decision to call off a missile strike against Iran in retaliation for its shooting down of an American surveillance drone.
Mr. Rouhani’s personal attacks on Mr. Trump are especially significant. In the context of the Iranian political system, Mr. Rouhani is regarded as a moderate who is relatively open to negotiations with Washington, and the acrimonious exchanges of insults between Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Trump further diminish the already-remote prospects of talks between the two sides.
The Trump administration is continuing to punish Iran with crippling economic sanctions that American officials say are intended to force Tehran to agree to new limits on any efforts to develop nuclear weapons and on its support for allied militias around the region.
Iran, in turn, has instead restarted its nuclear development program after four-year lull. It had suspended that work in exchange for sanctions relief under a 2015 agreement with the United States and other international powers, but Mr. Trump withdrew from the deal in order to start his administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, which is intended to force Iran into a more restrictive agreement.
Tensions have risen sharply over the past six weeks, ever since the Trump administration tightened its sanctions enforcement in an effort to cut off all international sales of Iran’s oil, the lifeblood of its economy. Iranian officials have denounced those sanctions as “economic warfare.”
The United States has accused Iran of lashing back by using naval mines to damage six tankers in the waters of the Persian Gulf, allegations Mr. Rouhani has denied.
Iran, however, boasted of shooting down an American surveillance drone last week. The United States has said the drone was in international air space, while Iran maintains that the aircraft was over Iranian territory.