Initial Reactions in Iran to the Election of Donald Trump as President of the United States – Dr. Raz Zimmt

(Fars, November 15, 2016)

(Fars, November 15, 2016)

(Fars, November 12, 2016)

(Fars, November 12, 2016)

"The crazy person beat the liar: Trump elected president of the United States," the front-page headline of Kayhan, November 9, 2016.

1.   Donald Trump's election as the 45th president of the United States was received in Iran with great surprise. Senior Iranian officials, among them Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, reacted with care and restraintin their initial references to his victory, claiming Iran was not worried but rather prepared to cope with any possible challenge. However, they did express concern that the president-elect would make good on his campaign threatsto revise the nuclear agreement. Iran's hardliners have been particularly critical of President Hassan Rouhani, representing him as having been misled by empty promises from the American administration.


2.   Initial Iranian reactions were restrainedbut did note that Iran was not worried by the election:

a.   On November 16, 2016, Supreme Leader Ali Khameneigave a speech in which he referred to the election for the first time. He claimed that as far as Iran was concerned, it did not matter who the president of the United States was and that Iran was not worried by the results. He said that since the Islamic Revolution, both the Democratic and Republican parties had been hostile to the Iranian people.

b.   Senior Iranian officials called for restraint and caution in dealing with the president elect. They said he should be judged by his conduct and not by his campaign slogans, which did not necessarily reflect his true intentions. Yahya Rahim Safavi, senior military advisor the supreme leader, said it was too early to judge the president elect, and that it could only be hoped he would make significant changes in America's Middle Eastern and Iranian foreign policy.

Concerns Lest the Nuclear Agreement be Scrapped and Increased Sanctions Imposed on Iran

3.   Statements by senior Iranian officials and op-ed articles in local newspapers noted that Trump would find it difficult to scrap the nuclear agreement. They may well have indicated fears that the new American administration would, in fact, try to cancel the agreement and increase sanctions on Iran:

a.   Less than 24 hours after the election results were announced, President Hassan Rouhani noted the possible consequences of a Trump presidency and rejected the possibility of the nuclear deal being cancelled.He said Iran's improved relations with Western countries would make it impossible to mobilize a new international consensus against Iran. Earlier, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, said Iran expected Trump to understand global realpolitik and honor the nuclear agreement.

b.   Senior Iranian officials and local newspapersvoiced the opinion that the commitment of the other powers to the nuclear agreement would not allow Trump to cancel the agreement and that cancelling it unilaterally would lead to an American confrontation with the EU, Russia and China. Sadeq Zibakalam, a professor at the University of Tehran,wrote in an op-ed piece that "Not only will he not burn the nuclear agreement, he will put it in a safe place in the White House" (Arman-e Emruz, November 12, 2016).

4.   Reactions in Iran also voiced concern that the new American administration would make it more difficult for Western companies to invest in Iran and would impose new sanctions, using various excusessuch as Iran's continuing its long-range missile program, its regional policies and its violations of human rights. Such American measures might make it even more difficult for Iran to thaw the billions of dollars it had in foreign accounts and to convince companies and banks to renew business dealings with Iran.

5.   According to an article published by the Donya-ye Eqtesad (Economic World) daily on November 13, Iran had to recognize that the nuclear agreement would not have the desired results. Thus President Rouhani was advised to increase Iran's collaboration with the EU, especially with Germany, France and Italy, to neutralize, insofar as was possible, the influence of the sanctions the United States was unilaterally capable of imposing.

The Internal Iranian Aspect

6.   President Rouhani's hardliner political rivals were quick to exploit America's elections results for harsh criticism of their own presidentas part of their campaign to weaken Rouhani in preparation for Iran's presidential elections, set for May 2017. They represented him and Foreign Minister Zarif as being misled by the American administration's empty promisesto lift the sanctions on Iran and as fostering vain hopes among Iraniansthat the nuclear agreement would improve Iran economically.

7.   Throughout the American presidential campaign Iranian hardliners claimed there was no difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, they were equally hostile to the Islamic Republic. Hardliners also claimed that Trump's victory could benefit Iran because it had removed the mask from the face of the arrogant, racist American administration. Iranian hardliners claimed that Trump's victory was more proof that the United States could not be trusted. Iran's economy could only be improved, they asserted, through a "resistance economy," which would rely on Iran's independent resources and be less dependent on foreign factors.

8.   Opponents of the government who had reservations about the nuclear agreement from the beginning, claiming it imposed far-reaching limitations on Iran without significant compensation, did not seriously consider the possibility that the president elect would cancel the agreement. On November 11, 2016, Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the radical daily Kayhan, published an editorial claiming that the best thing Trump could to would be to tear up the agreement and "save the Iranian people from its evil."

9.    However, both the hardliners and the conservatives have not called for a deliberate Iranian violation of the nuclear agreement. Clearly, all of Rouhani's most vocal critics prefer to have America, not Iran, responsible for its possible collapse. On November 10, 2016, the daily Donya-ye Eqtesad warned that the president elect was liable to increase the pressure on Iran to cause it to violate the agreement of its own accord, so that Iran could be blamed.


Possible Benefits to Iran from Trump's Presidency

10.   Alongside concerns that Trump will adopt an aggressive foreign policy towards Iran, various Iranian commentators also pointed to potential benefits. Some of them voiced the opinion that the president elect would focus mainly on domestic issues and limit American involvement in the Middle East (that is, make it easier for Iran to seek regional hegemony). It was also claimed that Trump, as a businessman, would be more influenced by economic interests and pragmatic considerations and less by uncompromising ideological concepts.

11.   Reports about Trump's close relations with Russia and President Putin, Trump's position on the war in Syria and his hostility during the campaign to the Saudi Arabian regime were of great interest to Iran and received with satisfaction. Ali Motahari, deputy speaker of the Majlis(the Iran parliament), reacted positively to Trump's statement that he would stress fighting ISIS in Syria and not attempt to oust President Assad. Such statements raised expectations in Tehran that the new administration would be willing to cooperate with Russia in the war against ISIS and promote a political arrangement that would make it possible for Iranian ally Assad to remain in poser.

Reactions of Senior Iranian Officials to Trump's Victory

1.   Supreme Leader Ali Khameneisaid that the results of the election made no difference to Iran. Speaking to civilians from Isfahan Province, he said Iran neither mourned not celebrated the results. Iran was not worried and was prepared to deal with any possible eventuality. He said America was still the same America, and that the 37 years since the Islamic Revolution had made both the Democratic and Republican parties hostile to the Iranian people (Website of Iran's supreme leader, November 16, 2016).

2.   President Hassan Rouhanisaid at a government meeting that the results of the presidential elections exposed American's internal tensions and instability, which would continue. He said today the United States did not have the ability, as it had in the past, to exploit Iranophobia to mobilize a global consensus against Iran. He added that by virtue of Iran's prudence and forethought, the nuclear agreement had not been signed with only one state or government, but had been ratified through a UN Security Council resolution. Therefore, it could not be changed unilaterally by one country (ISNA, November 9, 2016).

3.   Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, while on a visit to Romania, said the United States had to implement the international commitments it took upon itself as a party to the agreement, even though it did not have political relations with Iran. He said that the American president had to understand global realpolitik (ISNA, November 9, 2016).

4.   Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemisaid that what was important for Iran and its citizens was how the new American administration implemented its foreign policy. He said that over the last decades the experience of the Iranian people and the Islamic Republic with American politicians had been bitter (ISNA, November 9, 2016).

5.   Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said that the results of the elections in the United States showed the increasing frustration and lack of trust of most of American society for the system of government. He added that the results of the election would have no influence on Iran because Iran was an independent country and its policies were not influenced by changes in the governments of other countries (ISNA, November 9, 2016).

6.   Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, interviewed by Iranian newspaper Arman-e Emruz on November 14, 2016, said that from the beginning of the Islamic Revolution to today, Iran had not seen any difference between the Democratic and Republican parties. He said they were identical even if their rhetoric was different. The positions Trump took during the election showed he was dangerous and unprincipled, he claimed.

7.   Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said the experience of the past four decades showed that American foreign policy towards Iranian had not changed, regardless of the change in presidents, and that its hostility towards Iran was the same whether the president was Democratic or Republican (Sepah News, November 9, 2016).

8.   Mohammed Reza Naqdi, commander of the IRGC's Basij militia, said Trump represented the true face of the United States. His election, Naqdi claimed, could hasten the expected collapse of the United States, and it could take less than ten years (Fars, November 13, 2016).

9.   Yahya Rahim Safavi, senior advisor to the supreme leader for military affairs, said it was too early to judge the president elect, and it could only be hoped he would significantly change his country's foreign policies towards Iran, Syria and Iraq. He said past experience had shown that presidential candidates in various countries changed their positions once they had won the election and the same could be true for the United States, since the American political system did not allow the president to do whatever he pleased (Fars, November 14, 2016).

10.       Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, senior advisor to the supreme leader and former speaker of the Majlis, said that in his opinion America's foreign policy towards Iran would not change in the wake of the Trump victory. He said presidents customarily make promises during their campaigns they did not keep afterwards. He added that if Trump actually did what he promised, it would influence not only Iran and the nuclear agreement, but also relations between the United States, the EU and the Arab states. Such a change, he said, might be beneficial for Iran, which had not profited at all from previous arrangements (Fars, November 12, 2016).

11.       Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that it was necessary to wait and see what the president elect's foreign policy would actually be. He said Iran was prepared for every scenario. Every country that had signed the nuclear agreement and acted logically had to continue implementing it. Asked about the possibility that Trump might cancel the agreement, he said that it was in America's interest to support the agreement and that the new administration had to find solutions for the remaining problems, especially in finance and banking (ISNA, November 9, 2016).

12.       Majlis speaker Ali Larijanisaid that it was inadvisable to judge the president elect too hastily, and that the "diplomatic apparatus" should be allowed to formulate a clear position regarding him (ISNA, November 13, 2016).

13.       Ali Motahari, deputy speaker of the Majlis,said Trump's victory would be good for Iran because he was more honest than Clinton, his positions on Syria were "good," he was against Saudi Arabia and he wanted to improve America's relations with Russia (ISNA, November 9, 2016).

14.       Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Majlis committee for national security and foreign policy, said Trump's victory showed that Americans were against the "war-mongering" policies of the American administration. He said the American administration was committed to the nuclear agreement and that any action it took would be met with a proper reaction. He added that there was a difference between "Trump running for election" and "Trump as president," and that if the president elect wanted to keep his election promises, he at least had to stop sending weapons to Saudi Arabia (ISNA, November 9, 2016).

15.       Mohammad Reza Pour Ebrahimi, chairman of the Majlis economic committee, said the United States' new approach to ISIS and Saudi Arabia could offer Iran a chance to increase its regional economic involvement (ISNA, November 9, 2016).