In an interview with Muslim Press, Professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi says, “While the Iranians have no reason to believe that Trump will be significantly different from previous presidents, they are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and that is why we have seen senior Iranian politicians refrain from making comments about the president elect.”
Read the full text of the interview:
Muslim Press: How would you predict the future of Iran-US relations during Trump's time in power?
Mohammad Marandi: All American presidents since the overthrow of the former shah have shown hostility towards Iran, and despite the predominant narrative in the West that Obama somehow was better than other US presidents, the facts on the ground indicate otherwise. The harsh sanctions that he imposed on Iran led to the death of many Iranians especially those who could not obtain medicine during the height of the sanctions. Also, Obama and his administration supported extremism in Syria and he also supported the Saudi aggression against Yemen which has led to the destruction of the country. The belief is that many of these policies are linked to American hostility to Iran and that they have been carried out in order to benefit the Israeli apartheid regime. Wikileaks documents also indicate this to be the case.
Nevertheless, while the Iranians have no reason to believe that Trump will be significantly different from previous presidents, they are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and that is why we have seen senior Iranian politicians refrain from making comments about the president elect. Even if Trump wanted to improve relations with Iran and take a more reasonable approach towards the country, the deep state or the establishment in the United States is extraordinary hostile towards Iran just as it is towards Russia, as we have seen, and that alone could prevent any serious attempt to change policy from succeeding. So, it is difficult to be optimistic, but I think it is best to wait and see especially since Trump himself has been somewhat mute about Iran since winning the elections.
MP: Do you think the Iran nuclear deal or the JCPOA would be in jeopardy? Can he just rip up the deal?
Mohammad Marandi: I do not think he would rip up the deal because it would be more damage to the United States than for Iran. Also, one has to keep in mind that Obama too has damaged the deal significantly already. His administration has violated the agreement on numerous occasions by passing a visa restriction law, by putting pressure on banks, insurance and shipping companies, among others not to work with Iran and this is a direct violation of the agreement as it prevents the normalization of trade between Iran and other countries.
More recently, he has also refrained from blocking or vetoing the new law that was passed by Congress. The Iran Sanctions Act, which was a previous law, was about to expire. Therefore, the US passed a new law that was identical to the Iran Sanctions Act. Since this is a completely new law, though the text is identical to the previous one passed by Congress, it is a violation of the agreement. Whether the content or the wording of this law is different, similar, or identical to previous laws, it is a new law that has been passed by Congress and it itself is a major violation.
These major violations of the JCPOA along with other acts of hostility, some of which may not be directly linked to the JCPOA, show that Obama has not shown good faith or honesty towards Iran nor has he been faithful to his commitments and obligations. So looking at the situation from this perspective, assuming that a new US administration comes and does not abide by its side of the bargain, really is not a huge shift from what we are already experiencing.
MP: How would his policies affect Washington's relations with Arab countries of the Middle East?
Mohammad Marandi: We know that Trump is highly critical of US, Saudi, and Qatari support for extremist groups in Syria. We also know that he does not like the Saudi and Qatari regimes and he has verbally said that he wants to discontinue the current US policy which has helped create such chaos and devastation. Assuming that he is sincere, and assuming that he is able to overcome the sharp opposition of the establishment and deep state, this could help decrease the regional violence significantly. While such a move would be very unwelcome to Saudi Arabia, Qatar along with other oil-rich Arab family dictatorships, major Arab countries and their populations would welcome this, such as Iraq, Syria, Oman, Lebanon, Algeria, Egypt, and Yemen.
But again, it remains to be seen whether Trump is serious about carrying out his elections promises. If he does, this could be viewed as a positive sign not only by Iran, but also by many Arabs in the region that have suffered from Saudi-inspired Wahhabism.
MP: Trump has suggested that he might abandon US support for the militants that are actively fighting against Syrian government. What's your take on this?
Mohammad Marandi: The United States has been supporting the extremists in Syria from almost the beginning and this is well-documented. The US Defense Intelligence Agency has documented this and has admitted that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were supporting the extremists and that from early on these extremists were the dominant opposition force in Syria. According to the DIA, the US sided with these regimes in supporting the extremists. We also have the public admission of the US vice-president in a speech at Harvard and we have Wikileaks documents that have revealed that the US knew that even until 2014 Saudi Arabia and Qatar continued to support ISIL. Without US support, these countries would not have been able to destroy much of Syria, and thus the US bears enormous responsibility for their crimes against humanity. Any shift away from this catastrophic policy which has helped destroy not just much of Syria, but also Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan among other areas would obviously be very welcome. But it remains unclear whether Trump is sincere and it is unclear whether the deep state or US establishment would allow such a policy-shift to take place.
MP: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has expressed optimism over Trump's victory. He has said that unlike Clinton, Trump did not receive any money from the Gülenist movement. What could you say about this? How would US-Turkey relations change during his term?
Mohammad Marandi: It is difficult to say because Trump claims he will discontinue the US help for these extremist groups, however, the Turkish President has been one of their most important backers. He was very important in facilitating the rise of ISIL, he also allowed ISIL to carry out extensive oil trade with Turkey, and this only decreased significantly after Russian airstrikes began destroying the many thousands of Turkish oil tankers that were carrying out this trade.
The Turkish government continues to have a complex relationship with ISIS, despite claiming to oppose it. On the other hand, the current Turkish government is a staunch supporter of Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria. If Trump is sincerer in fighting against extremism, this will be an enormous problem for Turkish-US relations.
Seyed Mohammad Marandi is an Iranian academic, political analyst and an expert on American studies and postcolonial literature.