By Mehrdad Khonsari, former Iranian diplomat and an independent commentator on Iranian Affairs
No one really knows what to expect from President Trump due mainly to the numerous contradictory statements associated with him in the course of the presidential campaign.
The nuclear agreement with Iran is a prime example. Contrary to statements by Trump that he would “tear up the agreement”, no one really expects this to happen, although he may increase pressures by insisting on more nuclear supervisions, new visa restrictions as well as ‘putting Iran on notice’!
Other Iran related contradictory positions include:
- Trump’s reluctant condemnation of Russian intervention in Syria, can imply that he may not wish to seriously challenge Iranian interests in that country.
- Trump’s perceived policy of less emphasis on humanitarian issues serves to relieve existing pressures on Iran.
- Trump’s placement of fighting “Islamic terrorism” and defeating ISIS at the top of his agenda is one, which is fully compatible with policy that is pursued by Iran. Despite the anti-Iran attitude of some key officials, it is generally accepted that the threat posed by ‘Islamic terrorism’ in its present form comes not from Iran but from radicalized Sunni elements funded by some of America’s key Arab partners.
- It remains to be seen how committed the new US administration will remain to some of its ‘traditional allies’ amongst Arab Sunni states, Israel or even NATO.
- In circumstances where Trump is against involvement in any new Middle Eastern military adventures or nation building projects, American priorities are likely to focus on neutralizing worldwide threats posed against the US. Any analysis concerning the main sources of such threats since September 2001, which have led to the death of thousands of American and European citizens in places like New York, London, Paris, Nice and Berlin, points to an undeniable fact that Iran has had no part whatsoever in any of these attacks. Indeed, all of these attacks have been perpetrated by radical Sunni elements such as ISIS or Al Qaeda. Even the Iranian backed Hezbollah, which has been on the US State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, has in recent times been exclusively engaged in the war against ISIS.
- Another declared Trump priority is to improve the US economy and promoting export of US made products. In this context, gaining access to what is the largest untapped foreign investment market in the world has to be a major concern. It is unlikely for Trump to passively stand aside and watch economic competitors such as Europe, Japan, South Korea, China or Russia gain entry to this lucrative market. This could well provide Trump with an excuse to move Iran-US relations in a completely different direction than generally anticipated.
As new policy guidelines based on these considerations are arrived at in the coming months, some states in the region will try and persuade the new US administration to adopt a more confrontational approach towards Iran. But more confrontation with Iran is not a foregone conclusion given that Trump is not a dogmatic figure and very clear-eyed about promoting US economic interests.
At the same time, the priorities of the Rouhani government, which played a constructive role during the nuclear negotiations, is centred around an agenda of economic reconstruction aimed at improving the lot of the Iranian people. Domestic and regional stability is a key requirement for this objective and hence the government, which is being challenged by dogmatic hardliners in the upcoming presidential election planned for 19 May, is also fully committed to the war against ISIS and those who export their violence and radicalism around the world.
It follows therefore that in opening the country to new economic possibilities, Iran could in the next several months:
- Demonstrate its full backing and solid support for the ‘universal war’ against ISIS.
- Initiate concrete and meaningful dialogue with Saudi Arabia and the GCC for arriving at an acceptable compromise for resolving the current crisis in Yemen and Syria.
*Avoid provocations against US naval presence in the Persian Gulf or controversial testing of ballistic missiles.
- Underline its greatest national priority, namely the reconstruction of its economy in partnership with the West (i.e. Europe and America).
Such a message will constrain anti-Iran elements associated with the new US administration from advocating new policies that perpetuate animosities against Iran.
In conclusion, contrary to conventional wisdom, Iran-US relations can be steered in a new direction that could well astound all pundits much like the election to the presidency of Donald Trump himself.
Mehrdad Khonsari is a former Iranian diplomat and an independent commentator on Iranian Affairs
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