The victory of Donald Trump brought both relief and fear in Iran. While some are jubilant that Hillary Clinton lost and believe that Trump will conduct his presidency with a business mindset, most are fearful for the fate of the nuclear deal and the new era of international relations that Iran has been enjoying since 2013.
Iran’s official stance on the election results has been to present indifference while reminding the President-elect of his obligations to abide by the nuclear agreement.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated Nov. 16, “Some in the world are mourning because of the outcome of the elections in the United States, and some in the world got happy and celebrated. We didn’t do anything, we will not mourn nor will we celebrate, there is no difference for us.”
Other Iranian officials including President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif expressed confidence that Trump would respect the nuclear agreement. “What is important is that the future American president is obliged to stay committed to this not bilateral but multilateral nuclear deal, and we are certain the international community also has the same expectation,” Zarif told a press conference in Bucharest Nov. 9.
Trump has already hinted that he will not be implementing all of his campaign promises, and one can only hope that he will assess the economic merits as well as the non-proliferation aspects of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). During the campaign, Trump suggested that he might renegotiate the agreement and expressed anger that American companies were left out of investment and business opportunities in Iran.
While many Republicans and anti-Iran lobbyists in Washington are pushing for repudiation of the deal based on the president’s power to nullify the agreement with a stroke of a pen, in reality, the Europeans, Chinese and Russians would challenge a U.S. withdrawal and would be unlikely to resume nuclear-related sanctions absent Iranian noncompliance. It is imperative for Trump to prioritize his policies in a manner consistent with his overarching objectives.
Ayatollah Khamenei has vowed that “the Islamic Republic won’t be the first to violate the nuclear deal,” but warned that if the United States does so, Iran will “set fire” to the agreement.
One of the most consequential decisions Trump will make is choosing a Secretary of State. Names of war hawks that have been mentioned, such as Rudolph Giuliani, John Bolton and Newt Gingrich, are not only frightening for Iran, but also for anti-war Americans and the majority of the international community.
These three close Trump allies have repeatedly vowed their support for the Mujahedin-e Khalq or MEK, a militant Iranian dissident group that fled Iran during the Iran-Iraq war in 1980s and joined Saddam Hussein’s war against the Islamic Republic. Bolton has also proposed military attacks on Iran, and all three have shown a keen interest in regime change.
On the other hand, if Trump chooses a more establishment Republican, such as Sen. Bob Corker, former ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad or former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, that would reassure Iran and other members of the international community that the nuclear deal will be in the hands of sane politicians who, in the words of Zarif, have a grasp of “today’s reality in world politics.”
In Washington, foreign policy and national security experts, current and former politicians, and numerous think tanks have urged Trump to keep the Iran Deal. A report signed by 76 of these individuals suggested that the president-elect should “privately communicate to Iranian leaders that America does not seek the overthrow of Iran’s government, and instead seeks continued diplomatic engagement to build on shared interests and peacefully manage differences.”
It is particularly important that the U.S. does not take action against the JCPOA before Iran has its own presidential elections next May. Congress appears likely to extend the Iran Sanctions Act, which was renewed by the House of Representatives Nov. 15 by a vote of 419-1, but the legislation, assuming it also passes the Senate, will be waived by President Barack Obama in keeping with the JCPOA.
The most optimistic prospect would be for Trump to choose a policy of seeking a breakthrough with Iran, like Nixon’s opening to China. The fight against Daesh, the stability of Afghanistan and Iraq, the future of Syria, the end of the tensions in the Persian Gulf, are among major areas that could benefit from an improved relationship between U.S. and Iran.
The U.S.-Iran relations have had a difficult history and there is no guarantee they would have improved had Clinton won. Ayatollah Khamenei, referring to such actions as the shooting down of an Iranian civilian airliner when Ronald Reagan was president, said: “I have no judgment about the recent elections in the United States, America is America, this political party, that political party, whichever came to power did not lead to any benefits for us, they harmed us… With the help of God, we are ready to face any possible scenario.”
However, Ayatollah Khamenei also paid a sort of compliment to Trump, praising the American’s focus on domestic issues during the campaign rather than on foreign intervention. “This new president that has been elected in the United States has been saying that if they had not used their money on war, they could have rebuilt [the infrastructure] of their country two times,” the Supreme Leader said.
Mehran Haghirian is an Iranian Graduate Student at American University’s School of International Service in Washington D.C., and he is currently an Intern at Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative.
Contact [email protected] | Follow @iranpolitique