Donald Trump’s victory in the US election and the coming changes in the country’s foreign policy are still a headline story for the global media. Although there have been only cautious hints about the possibility of normalizing US-Russian relations, opponents of such a policy are already speaking up. One scenario being mentioned predicts a new conflict between the US and Russia after Trump moves to pull the US out of the agreement over Iran’s nuclear program that was negotiated by the P5+1. Attempts are being made to portray any review by Washington of the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as a disaster for Tehran and an obstacle to Moscow in the normalization of relations with the next US administration. But is this really a problem?
In Tehran they are calmly waiting to see how the American president-elect’s foreign policy unfolds. In the end, snippets from Trump’s campaign speeches are more useful for showing how he thinks than for predicting his future political decisions. In any event, from Iran’s perspective, Donald Trump is a more promising figure than Hillary Clinton. His refusal to focus on deposing Assad in Syria at the expense of fighting the Islamic State (IS), his promise to destroy IS, his call for Saudi Arabia to provide ground forces in the battle against terrorism, his acknowledgment of US responsibility for the lack of stability in Iraq, his desire to normalize relations with Russia – all this is significantly different from what Clinton had promised.
Tehran has taken note of the fact that in a Nov. 11 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump praised Iran and Russia’s role in the war on terror. Under certain circumstances, such an approach could pave the way for Iran and the US to cooperate in the battle against IS, alongside Russia. That possibility was never entertained under Obama.
Iranians have also pointed out one more detail: Trump has never stated that US policy toward Israel is unalterable, and has even hinted at a willingness to review previous US commitments to that country. In a New York Times interview, he questioned whether it made sense to provide Tel Aviv with billions of dollars in military aid every year. He also affirmed his support for a two-state solution in Palestine and has refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
But perhaps this is just wishful thinking on Tehran’s part. While addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Trump chided Clinton and Obama for having «treated Israel very, very badly», and offered assurances of his own love for Israel.
Regardless, Iran does not yet see the election of US President Trump as a direct threat to its nuclear agreement with the P5+1. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has noted that Tehran is «determined to stay faithful to the JCPOA» but that «this did not mean Iran has no other options».
What options would those be?
It is logical to assume that this means that Iran is allowed to review the terms of the nuclear deal without detriment to itself. After all, many in the Islamic Republic believe that from the standpoint of Iran’s interests, the current nuclear deal is not the best option. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly charged that the agreement is filled with ambiguities. The Iranian leader has warned that JCPOA could cause great damage to Iran, both now as well as in the future. Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis) also approved the agreement, but included caveats that the government must take into account.
It is possible that Trump might give Iran the chance to withdraw some of those caveats. He did not express concerns about the nuclear deal from the standpoint of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. Trump pointed to something else in his criticism of the agreement, namely the fact that lifting the sanctions and unfreezing Iran’s assets ($150 billion by his estimate) has opened up Iran’s markets for many countries, but not the US. «Did you notice they’re buying from everybody but the United States?» he exclaimed.
This new US president, who aims to use trade as a foreign-policy tool, naturally yearns to correct this situation. And a change in the US position – especially the restoration of trade and economic relations with private US companies – is also an intriguing prospect for the Iranians, who are having serious difficulties establishing trade and financial ties with the West. One example might be the currently stalled deal to buy over a hundred Boeing airplanes from the US. Incidentally, Trump also expressed his ire on this topic: why is the Obama administration preventing the Iranians from buying from Boeing, which only encourages Tehran to purchase Airbus from Europe? Because, as Trump said when the nuclear deal with Iran was finalized, the United States is «led by very, very stupid people».
But it’s quite unlikely that Trump intends to go back to square one in the nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. As Walid Phares, one of Trump’s foreign-policy advisors, said after the election: «Ripping up is maybe a too strong of word … He will take the agreement, review it, send it to Congress, demand from the Iranians to restore few issues or change few issues, and there will be a discussion.» Iran got the message.
Nor does the outgoing Obama administration believe that Trump will rip up the nuclear deal. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner, noting that the agreement with Iran is not a legally binding treaty, emphasized that it is in America’s best interests for it to remain in effect. If Trump decides to withdraw from the deal, Iran will begin to revive its nuclear weapons program.