Capitals around the world are bracing for the reality of a Donald Trump presidency, following the Republican nominee’s upset victory last night. In Tehran, speculation abounds that Trump’s election could strengthen hardliners within Iran, as uncertainty looms over the future of the nuclear deal. Reuters:
Republican Trump said during the election campaign that he would abandon the nuclear deal reached between Tehran and six world powers in 2015 that curbed Iran’s nuclear program in return for the removal of international sanctions.
His tough stance, in contrast to President Barack Obama’s offer of an olive branch to Tehran, could serve the interests of hardliners in Iran.
“If Trump adopts hostile policies towards Iran, this will empower hardliners in Iran,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of his comments.
A second senior Iranian official said: “Trump’s victory will unite Iran’s hardliners and their supporters … It means more political pressure at home and an aggressive regional policy.”
Donald Trump has promised an “unpredictable” foreign policy, so it is too soon to know exactly what he will do with Iran, and he has offered mixed signals about his intentions regarding the nuclear deal.
Of course, Trump is not the determining factor in internal Iranian politics. But his election could be exploited by shrewd mullahs within Tehran to their own ends. Hardliners will likely not overreact to Trump right away: a smarter strategy would be to lie low and wait for the new U.S. administration to make a provocative move.
There are other plausible scenarios: a Trump Administration could threaten to cancel the deal as a means to extract concessions from Iran elsewhere. But it is not clear that the United States has the leverage to change Iranian behavior. The Obama Administration’s policy certainly has not done so: Iranian proxies are running rampant throughout the Middle East, with the Shi’a on the march in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. However Trump handles the Iranian challenge, it is not going away any time soon.