Trump, Though Critical of Nuclear Deal, Could Offer Opportunities for Iran

TEHRAN — At first blush, the election of Donald J. Trump would seem to be bad news for Iran. But there is a chance that on balance, things could work out surprisingly well for the clerics.

Publicly, Iran’s leaders stress that they pay little heed to what happens in the United States, that they pride themselves on their independence. “It makes no difference for Iran who the next U.S. president is,” the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a speech last week.

Yet he could hardly miss Mr. Trump’s promises on the campaign trail to “tear up” the landmark nuclear agreement reached last year, which he frequently described as the worst deal ever. In response, Ayatollah Khamenei said recently that if Mr. Trump tore it up, “we will set fire to it.”

But Mr. Trump also presents new opportunities for Iran, many analysts say. While he has criticized the nuclear deal, he has also said that the United States should stop backing rebels in Syria and focus on the Islamic State militant group — effectively shifting its support to Iran’s ally in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad.

If that happens, said Mohammad Marandi, an associate professor of North American studies at the University of Tehran, “it will be good for Iran, the region and the world.”

With its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, Tehran has supported Mr. Assad throughout the uprising, which started in 2011, morally and, later, financially and militarily. Over 400 Iranian and Shiite Afghan soldiers have died in the conflict, according to official statistics.

“If such a change would come from Trump, of all people, it would be remarkable,” Professor Marandi said.

In the larger context, Iran is waiting and hoping for the day the United States packs up and leaves the Middle East, closing its military bases in the region and moving its aircraft carriers out of the Persian Gulf. While that seems far-fetched, Mr. Trump has demonstrated an isolationist streak in questioning the value of NATO and the nuclear umbrella over South Korea and Japan.

“They should stop threatening us,” Professor Marandi said. “If the United States under Trump is more constructive, he will find that Iran will respond in kind.”

Even with the nuclear deal, things could ultimately break Iran’s way. Last week, 76 national security experts signed a report urging Mr. Trump to keep the deal. And lately, even some Republicans in Congress and groups that had opposed the deal urged Mr. Trump to go slowly and consider other ways to pressure Iran.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives did just that, voting overwhelmingly to extend some Iran sanctions for an additional 10 years.