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Iran hopes a US election will solve its ‘Trump problem’

By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

One of the characteristics of democracies in the West is that every government or administration generally comes to office for a few years, and is then replaced by another with new plans and policies. One of the strategic advantages Iran has over the West is that, without such democratic accountability, the theocratic establishment can plan decades ahead.

It is true that presidents in Iran change every four or eight years, but they do not make final decisions. Presidents and foreign ministers work for the Supreme Leader, the ultimate political and religious authority, who rules until his death and enjoys the final say in domestic and foreign policies. This continuity has given Iran a platform for a multifaceted strategy in an attempt to wait out the Trump administration.

When Donald Trump became US president, Iranian leaders knew they would have several difficult years ahead; Trump had made his intention of confronting the Iranian regime crystal clear. At the same time, because Trump did not win the popular vote, Iran’s leaders guessed that they would have to survive only four years of his administration.

Pitting Europe against the US paid off for Iran as the EU fell into its divide-and-conquer political trap. The EU also worked hard on avenues that can preserve the nuclear deal, and continues to do so

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Trump began by withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 deal with world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for an end to sanctions. When the US re-imposed those sanctions, Iran did not immediately respond by also pulling out of the nuclear deal, for three main reasons.

First, a swift withdrawal could have tilted the European Union toward the US position and intensified the pressure on Tehran. Instead, Iran played the victim by saying it would stick to the agreement in spite of the US having pulled out. Since the US was to blame, the international community should reimburse Iran’s financial losses, it argued.

Pitting Europe against the US paid off for Iran as the EU fell into its divide-and-conquer political trap. The EU also worked hard on avenues that can preserve the nuclear deal, and continues to do so. To circumvent US sanctions that bar access to the dollar, Germany, France and the UK set up a new mechanism called the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX).

Second, by not swiftly and openly withdrawing from the nuclear deal, Tehran was also attempting to prevent the crisis from spiraling into military confrontation with the US. From Iran’s perspective, some of Trump’s officials — such as national security adviser John Bolton — would not hesitate to confront Iran militarily; and such a war would be the end of the clerical regime, because Iran’s military capabilities are much inferior to those of the US.

Third, by claiming that Iran is still adhering to the terms of the nuclear deal, Tehran is encouraging the next Democrat president to rejoin the JCPOA and lift all the sanctions imposed by Trump.  That is why, despite openly breaching the JCPOA’s limits on enriched uranium, Iran argues that these are remedial measures in response to US actions, and are both permissible and reversible.

In tandem with this strategy, the regime also deployed more hard power in the Gulf while simultaneously warning that to confront them would be a catastrophe for the world. According to President Hassan Rouhani: “Peace with Iran is the mother of peace. War with Iran is the mother of all war.” Their belief that the EU is on Iran’s side and that the US is alone has emboldened Iran’s leaders to implement such aggressive polices.

US presidential elections take place next year, and Iran’s leaders believe their wait will soon be over. We shall see.

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  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

This article was first published by arabnews