Iran Has a Surprising Favorite in the U.S. Presidential Race

Iran Has a Surprising Favorite in the U.S. Presidential Race

© Reuters Photographer / Reuter

After years of isolation and sanctions imposed by the United States and the United Nations, Iran is quickly reclaiming its place in the Middle East and on the global stage. 

Iran’s reemergence is due in no small part to the nuclear deal reached with the Obama administration and other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council that limits the country’s nuclear enrichment program in exchange for lifting the international sanctions. While Democratic presidential candidates support the deal, Republicans strongly oppose it and have threatened to revoke it if they win the presidency.

Related: How Iran Is Taking Over the Middle East

Like most countries, Iran won’t interfere with U.S. domestic politics, says Amir Khaleghiyan, a researcher at the Iranian Institute for Social and Cultural Studies. But Iran does have its preferences, and would probably like to see a Democrat rather than a Republican win the election--if for no other reason than to maintain President Obama’s nuclear deal, which released Iran’s frozen assets. Another reason Iran might lean towards a Democrat is that in Obama’s view, the Saudis need to find a way to share the Middle East with the Iranians. 

Between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, Sander’s views of the nuclear deal, the Syrian civil war, Israel and Palestinian crisis, and Iraq make him a better candidate for Iran. He is the only candidate who has strongly stressed the idea of cooperating with Tehran to deal with regional issues.

Yet, the Iranian perspective of the “best” U.S. presidential candidate is rather more complicated than the simplicity of favoring the socialist Bernie Sanders. “It may be interesting to know that according to Iranian authorities, dealing with Republicans is much easier. The amount and complexity of the pressures forced on Iran in the term of George W. Bush was considerably less than those of Obama’s government,” says Abass Qaidaari, director of the defense and security studies at the office of the Iranian president. 

Related: Why Hillary Clinton Is Taking a Hard Line on Iran’s Missile Tests

“Put another way, simplicity and black and white worldview of the Republicans are mostly a benefit to Iran; while tricky presidents such as Barack Obama have thus far cost expensively for Iran’s foreign policy and economy,” adds Qaidaari. The Iranian official describes the Republican frontrunner billionaire Donald Trump as “plagued by simplicity in regard to foreign policy and international security; the situation is so drastic that we believe he possibly does not understand a thing about the foreign policy.”

Qaidaari says that Iran believes that current hard realities and economic motivation could even convince Donald Trump with his unconventional approach into developing positive relations with Iran and the rest of the world. “Even some Iranians claim that he (Trump) could be more negotiable.”

There are three key issues for Iran regarding the next U.S. president, the Iranian official says:

  • How committed would a future president be in executing the articles of the nuclear agreement, keeping the current positive course of relations with Iran?
  • How realistic and positive would the viewpoint of the future president be regarding instability and insecurity raging in the Middle East?
  • Would realism and close understanding of the facts be the basis of forging new relations with Iran, or would ideology in Congress and the White House direct it?

As Iranians see it, Hilary Clinton is more realistic and has a better understanding of the Middle East. On the other side, some of her viewpoints and the influence of Arabic-Jewish lobbyists are her losing points. So her approach towards foreign policy and especially Iran is colored by uncertainty.

In its race for regional supremacy with Sunni Saudi Arabia, Shiite Iran has worked to reinforce the "Shia crescent." The Iranian field of influence now extends across Iraq, where Iran has joined the war against ISIS, to Syria, where Tehran has worked to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power during Syria’s five-year civil war. The Shia crescent has long touched Lebanon, where Iranian-backed Hezbollah is a state within the state. And it has reached Yemen, where Houthi rebels, a Zaidi Shia group, have been fighting a Saudi led Arab coalition supporting the Yemeni government for more than a year.

Related: Iran's Rouhani Welcomes Poll Wins That Could Mean Faster Reform

Israel and Saudi Arabia – two powerful U.S. allies – have both stated their concern over Iran's nuclear program. In 1981, Israel attacked the Iraqi nuclear reactor. The attack bought Israel about a decade before Iraq was again close to building a bomb. In 2007, Israel attacked the Syrian nuclear reactor. A year later, Israel wanted to destroy Iran’s nuclear program. President George W. Bush nixed that proposal. Saudi Arabia tried to convince the U.S. to attack Iran in the same year. Bush refused again.

Iran is one of the three big nations in the Middle East, along with Egypt and Turkey, but Iran's influence is larger today than it was several years ago.

“Whatever the result of the American presidential election will be, Tehran is firm in stabilizing its standing in the region and the world. As Tehran sees it, the American president is no longer a figure whose executive order could threaten Tehran’s interests,” adds Qaidaari. Nevertheless, the Iranian official says that the Middle East for the past three years has progressed in a way that today, Tehran and Washington have common interests.

“The candidate aware of this fact who is willing to use a win-win foreign policy in relation to Tehran (just as President Rouhani has suggested to the international community), would be most welcomed by Tehran.”