Iran Review|Alireza Rahimi: Following the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, speculations about the policies of his administration and possible outcomes of those policies have turned into a hot topic for political, economic and academic circles. The reactions shown to this issue in Iran have been mostly focused on such issues as the regional policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, state policies in Iran, the issue of Iran’s nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the impact of Trump’s election on the approaches taken to Iran by world powers, the issue of Iran’s regional rivals and enemies, and issues related to civil relations in Iran.
In terms of regional policies, perhaps a clearer outlook has been delineated compared to the past. An issue, which was regularly highlighted by Donald Trump in his election campaign and debates was the priority given to the issue of eliminating the Daesh terrorist group instead of focusing on such goals as toppling the Syrian President Bashar Assad. A show of determination by the United States to eradicate Daesh in the Middle East and lower the priority of such an unrealistic goal as the regime change in Syria through forceful means should be considered as a remarkable progress. Of course, the method to be used by Trump’s government to achieve the goal of eradicating Daesh, and the way that the United States will choose to manage reclaimed territories following the demise of Daesh are all fateful matters and are per se capable of giving birth to new regional challenges.
Trump’s election as the next US president will have different consequences for the Islamic Republic of Iran in terms of domestic politics. Trump is possible to focus less on Washington’s past human rights claims and concentrate more on domestic issues of the country and this can serve to reduce tensions between the two countries. Nonetheless, possible support for and use of political forces that are opposed to the Islamic Republic, and supporting those groups, which seek to overthrow the Islamic establishment, can render this positive point useless. Political figures named to hold government posts in Trump’s administration and past relations between some of them and such anti-Iran terrorist groups as the Mujahedeen Khalq Organization (MKO) are not good signs and actually portend more tension between the two countries.
Iran’s nuclear deal is another issue, which may pit Trump and his administration against Iran. Although the nuclear deal is an international agreement supported by the United Nations Security Council and discarding it would be incompatible with international rules and regulations, the new US government should be expected to take obstructionist steps in this regard. This is true because the US House of Representatives and Senate will remain under control of Republican figures and will help the government in its effort to put obstacles on the way of the implementation of the nuclear deal. Such limitations may continue and even get worse in the form of banking and trade impediments, investment restrictions and preventing industrial and economic cooperation between entities from the two countries.
In view of Trump’s political, security, economic and trade policies, it seems that the existing gaps between the United States, on the one hand, and the European Union, China and trade partners of the US in the Asia-Pacific region, on the other hand, will deepen. Differences with Europe will be over such issues as the climate change, management of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the best way to contain Russia and, probably on how to go ahead with the implementation of the JCPOA. At the same time, tensions between the United States and China are going to be exacerbated over the two countries’ trade and economic relations as well as rising militarism by the United States in the North Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea. All these factors will serve to widen the aforesaid gaps, which can be also translated into reduced ability of the United States to create new international consensus against Iran.
Another aspect of Trump’s foreign policy is the effort that he is possible to make in order to get closer to Russia compared to President Barack Obama’s term. The consequences of this issue can be both promising and concerning for Iran. They could be promising because less US hostility against Russia would mean lower tensions in the region, which would conform to Iran’s norm, which call for taking advantage of political solutions to resolve regional issues. However, more closeness between the United States and Russia can, under specific conditions, cause Russia to drift away from Iran and also cause the existing strategic links between Iran and Russia over various issues, especially in Syria, to be sacrificed in the process of covert political give and take behind the scenes. Therefore, Iran must approach this issue very cautiously.
Relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and its regional rivals and enemies constitute another issue, which will be affected by new policies of the forthcoming US administration. Although Saudi Arabian and Israeli lobbies had taken sides with Hillary Clinton against Trump during election campaigns in the United States, this issue should not lead to the misleading conclusions. As proven by historical experiences, strategic ties between the United States and Israel are so strong that both Democrat and Republican parties feel committed to maintain them. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is considered as the United States’ strategic partner in the region. Therefore, although Trump’s foreign policy orientations may increase tensions between his administration and the Saudi regime, it must not be forgotten that during his election campaign, Trump talked about the necessity for Saudi Arabia to develop a military nuclear capability. Although achievement of this goal seems too unlikely, it is a sign of how unpredictable Trump’s approach to Saudi Arabia can be.
On the whole, relations between civil societies in Iran and the United States will be one of the main losers of Trump’s election and a major reason for this issue is anti-immigration and Islamophobic approaches taken by Trump. Since Trump is not alone in his radical views on these issues and many members of the Republican Party as well as large sections of social groups and people in the American society support his views, one may expect more problems to arise in relations between the two countries’ citizens. It is almost certain that travels by Iranian citizens to the United States, academic scholarships, relations between the two countries’ universities, trade relations and other forms of relations between the two countries’ nationals will be affected by this process.
The above facts show that nobody can decisively talk about advantages or disadvantages of Trump’s election win for Iran, and to pass a judgment on this issue, one must take into account various positive and negative outcomes of this issue. At the same time, it must be noted that these speculations have been brought up in view of the approaches adopted by Trump during his election campaign, and the roles to be played by the Republican Party, the House of Representatives, Senate, and various think tanks, as well as Trump’s deputies and advisors in shaping his executive policies must not be ignored.