For as unnerved as many world leaders were with Donald Trump’s election, they will have no choice but to work with the president of the world’s most powerful country. One exception, however, will be Iran, which has come to develop one of the most hostile relationships in all international politics with the United States.
Fascinatingly, Trump’s triumph over Hillary Clinton was anticipated by Iran’s supreme leader, who just prior to the election declared that Trump had more support among Americans due to his frankness about the realities of the country. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for his part, believes that America has a corrupt political system, has fostered the rise of terrorist groups like the self-proclaimed Islamic State and Al Qaeda, and has spurred instability through military intervention in the Middle East. Thus, he regularly argues that for Iran to engage in negotiations with such a country would have little value, and a formal diplomatic relationship would be actively harmful ― a position some incoming senior U.S. officials feel about Iran.
Both Ayatollah Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani have, however, urged calm over Trump’s election. “If a president is changed here and there, it has no impact on the will of Iran,” Rouhani said in a speech shortly after the election, adding that Iran would remain committed to the nuclear deal. Ayatollah Khamenei has also stated that Iran does not have “any judgement on the election,” but is “ready for any possible incident.”
The proclamations of Trump and other presidential candidates during the campaign validated important aspects of Ayatollah Khamenei’s view of the United States. However, it remains to be seen whether this shared thinking on America’s political system will result in Trump reforming past policies and ending the 38-year deadlock in U.S.-Iran relations, thereby attaining the diplomatic achievement of the century. On the other hand, Trump can easily end President Barack Obama’s engagement policy towards Iran and put Washington and Tehran on the path to full-spectrum confrontation. Deal opponents in Washington are already fervently pursuing a path of reintroducing non-nuclear sanctions to incentivize Iranian leaders to discard the accord. Since the 115th U.S. Congress was sworn in recent days, several anti-Iran bills have already been introduced, including one that would impose sanctions over Iran’s ballistic missile program. Whichever approach he decides, there are a number of things Trump should know about Iran. Here are a few:
After the Iranian revolution, America adopted an approach of regime change towards Iran, predicated on applying every conceivable pressure on the post-revolutionary government. This included supporting Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during his war of aggression against Iran, which saw Saddam killing or injuring upwards of 100,000 Iranian with chemical weapons. The years since then have also seen America deploy the world’s first cyberweapon against Iran and impose draconian and collectively-punishing sanctions. In parallel, Iran has used all its capabilities to confront the United States. Despite all this, Iran today stands as one of the region’s most powerful and stable countries, while U.S. allies, who have benefited from immense American support over the years, have either collapsed or are wavering due to their own shortcomings.