Trump vs. Hillary: Who's Better for Iran?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad casting his vote in Iran's 2016 election​. Wikimedia Commons/Hamed Malekpour

Iranians wonder which will do less damage to Obama’s opening.

The U.S. presidential election and its outcome will greatly influence the fate of many nations, in particular those in the Middle East. Consequently these nations, their political leaders and their people are closely following developments here in the United States. Iran is no exception, especially since all the major candidates have spoken repeatedly about Iran. The question that many Iranians are asking is which candidate, Donald Trump or Hillary Rodham Clinton, will be better for Iran in terms of bilateral relations between the two countries?

Iran and the U.S. Elections

There is no unanimous thinking in Iran when it comes to the United States. Not only do the Iranian people and the Islamic Republic’s leadership think differently about the United States, but there are also serious differences between, on the one hand, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his supporters, and on the other, President Hassan Rouhani and his moderate and reformist backers. In a meeting with senior officials on June 14, Khamenei stated that in conversation with him some officials [meaning President Rouhani and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani] defend reestablishing diplomatic relations with the United States, adding,

“Over the years many have spoken to me and there have been many who truly believed that this [diplomatic relations with the United States] is possible, [but] they admitted later on, not to me, [but] in my absence and in official meetings to make decisions [regarding the state’s affairs] that his [Khamenei’s] reasoning [for opposing relations with the United States] cannot be argued with. They are right, the reasons that I have against this has no counterarguments.”

In the same speech, Khamenei angrily rejected the views of those officials that advocate rapprochement with the United States in order to resolve the issues between the two countries diplomatically. He reminded the officials that Congress and Israel admit freely that they are Iran’s enemy, and that Congress continuously approves new resolutions and laws against Iran that the president signs. Khamenei also claimed that President Obama and his cabinet take hostile positions with regard to Iran, and to prove this, he said,

“The nature of the United States has not changed; it is the same as in the Ronald Reagan era. It is the same. Yes, there are Democrats and Republicans, and they pass off issues to each other, but the nature of the system remains the same.”

Khamenei has repeatedly stated that the policies of Democrats and Republicans regarding Iran are not different, because the United States is opposed to the very existence of the Islamic Republic, which will not change through diplomatic negotiations. To demonstrate this, he recalled another speech of his on November 3, 2013, in which he said, “The Americans can tell us that if we make certain concessions [regarding Iran’s nuclear program], they will no longer be hostile toward us; they can state this,” adding, “If the nuclear issue is resolved, will the problem [of U.S. hostility toward Iran] end?”

Khamenei later said, “Well, the nuclear issue was resolved. [But] is everything finished? [No], the issue of [Iran’s] missile [testing] has been brought up. If we resolve that issue, the [state of] human rights [in Iran] will be raised, and if that issue is resolved, the [vetting power] of the Guardian Council [to reject candidates for almost all national elections] will be brought up. If we resolve that issue, the issues of the Supreme Leader and velayat-e faqih [guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, represented by the Supreme Leader, which is the backbone of Iran’s political system] will be raised, and if they are resolved, then the constitution will be put on the table; these issues never end.”

Hence, in Khamenei’s view, the United States is pursuing no goal other than regime change in Iran. He is not happy about the implementation of the nuclear agreement between Iran and P5+1, as well as the U.S. presidential candidates’ positions regarding Iran. Khamenei believes that Western negotiators left many aspects vague so that they can manipulate and reinterpret them later on. He has stated repeatedly that at the beginning of the nuclear negotiations with the United States he reminded President Rouhani that the Americans “are disloyal [to their own promises], are bad-natured, break their promises and do not deliver them.”

In the same June 14 speech, Khamenei emphasized that “everyone can see that we have carried out our obligations” toward the nuclear agreement, but “the sanctions are still in place, large banks are afraid of doing business with Iran because they are scared of the U.S. Treasury Department,; Iran’s oil supertankers are not insured, Iran’s funds frozen abroad have not been released and Iran cannot easily receive the proceeds from selling its oil.”

Khamenei did emphasize repeatedly that according to the Quranic teachings Iran will be obligated to carry out its commitments, and will not violate them, but “if the other side violates its obligations, we will do likewise. We have carried out our obligations, but the United States has not,” adding, “U.S. presidential candidates constantly threaten that [if elected] they will tear the [nuclear] agreement; if they do so, we will set it on fire.”