Iran reacts cautiously to Trump victory

Iran reacts cautiously to Trump victory
Mural on the former US embassy in Tehran.
By bne IntelliNews November 9, 2016

Donald J. Trump's victory in the US general election has left many in Iran either bemused or even hopeful. Iran only signed the historic Nuclear Deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) last year and had expected Hillary Clinton to win this year's vote and continue the slow rolling back of sanctions. Trump's election brings uncertainty but could even accelerate the lifting of sanctions, some hope.

Up to now Iranians had believed the US election would not affect them greatly. More than half (52%) of Iranians believed that it would not matter for Iran either way if Trump won the presidential election, according to a nationwide poll of 1,600 people published by the Student's News Agency, a semi-official news agency, on November 7.

Iran's political establishment had not been shy to ridicule both presidential candidates in the run-up to the November 8 vote, and publicly it continues to claim there will be no significant change in bilateral relations.

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani said on November 9 that the US election results would have no effect on Tehran's policies, adding that Iran's expanding ties with the world were irreversible. Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif also urged Trump to stick to the nuclear deal but stopped short of congratulating him.

The first official reaction from the Iranian government came from Atomic Energy Agency Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi, who told  Tasnim News Agency: "The country is ready for any development, but we continue to press with implementing the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)." He added, "Iran has our long-term plans [irrespective of Trump's win]."

But before the vote, the Islamic Republic's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that the election could bring change. On November 2, during a meeting with the faithful, Khamenei, who has the last say on all diplomatic and internal matters, said to the faithful in one of his weekly sermons: "Since that man [Trump] was more outspoken, spoke more frankly, American people paid far more attention to him [than other candidates] … his opponent accused him of being populist (said in English). Populism why populism?" He added, "Because [American] people were hearing his words and realised that they [the revelations] were true."

The supreme leaders' sentiments are echoed by others in the Iranian capital, not least foreign business people, who have been disappointed with the speed with which the US has so far lifted sanctions on Iran.

One Tehran-based South African businessman said upon hearing Trump's victory, "I do not blame the American people for choosing Trump because they are tired of the Clintons, but what it now means for Iran may be positive."

He added that a Trump White House might actually be more amenable to Iran's position on a raft of different security and economic issues. "Trump is more in line with Putin, and Putin is more in line with [Iran's president] Rouhani."

One Iranian businessman, who also asked not to give his name, said: "The way I look at this, Obama was stuck between a rock and a hard place because Republicans controlled both houses of the US government. Trump may want to do more jobs for his country, and now he has the power to him." But he also noted, "We have no idea what Trump's policy will be like regarding Iran."

That uncertain feeling is being echoed in Iran's money market on November 9, with the US dollar rising in the morning against the Iranian rial (IRR), with one dollar now buying IRR 36,640, 16,000, up on the previous day.