November 6, 2020

Middle East Roundup: Iranian Leaders Reacts to U.S. Election

This week, Iranian leaders suggested that the U.S. election does not matter for Iran nor will it affect the government’s policies. Please see our breakdown and analysis of these events below: 

On Anniversary of Hostage Crisis, Iranian Leaders Reject Importance of U.S. Elections

  • Contours Begin to Form in Iran for Potential U.S. JCPOA Return

    • Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on November 3 that the U.S. election and who becomes President, “is none of our business, meaning it won’t influence our policy at all. Our policy is clear and well-calculated and people coming and going will have no impact on it.” 
    • During a cabinet meeting, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also said that, “for Tehran, the next U.S. administration’s policies are important and not who wins the US election…what we want is for the US to return to law,…to return to international and multilateral accords.”
    • On the eve of the election, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that, “We don’t have a preferred candidate…the statements made by the Biden campaign have been more promising, but we will have to wait and see.” He went on to say that “what is important for us is how the White House behaves after the election, not what promises are there, what slogans are made.”

    • When asked if Iran would heed calls from a potential Biden administration to craft a new nuclear deal, Zarif was adamant against the idea: “No. If we wanted to do that, we would have done it with President Trump.”

    • In a statement concerning the U.S. election, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp. (IRGC) sent out a statement stating that regardless of who is President in the U.S, “there has been no change in American arrogance and hostile policies against the Islamic Republic.” They called on the Iranian people to “rely on domestic strength, capacities and capabilities” to combat the country’s hardships and not rely on the outcome of foreign elections.”

    • In addition, on Monday November 2nd, Iran’s parliament voted to fast-track the consideration of legislation that would end intrusive nuclear inspections by international monitors if U.S. oil and banking sanctions aren’t lifted within three months of the bill’s approval. The bill would also seek to revitalize the mothballed core of the Arak reactor that was dismantled as a result of the nuclear deal, as well as increase Iran’s uranium enrichment to 20% from 4.5%.
    • However, parliament is unable to move unilaterally on these issues, since the bill, if passed, must still pass through the Guardian Council for vetting. It would also need the informal acquiescence of Iran’s Supreme Leader given the importance of the nuclear issue. 
  • Key Takeaways
    • Iranian leaders have consistently echoed that the results of the U.S. elections don’t matter to Iran for weeks now. However, Zarif’s comments point to at least a  public acceptance that a Joe Biden presidency would likely result in a change in posture towards Iran.

    • Many in Iran, particularly the Supreme Leader and his hardline backers, conflate administrations of different parties because they’ve seen pressure on Iran increase under both. However, Zarif falls in a different camp that does accept some of the similarities between the parties on Iran policy, but that Democrats and Republicans come with different postures and thus, different opportunities for diplomacy.
    • While the parliament has the ability to frame the internal debate on foreign policy, it mainly functions as a rallying point for many of the political system’s conversative, hardliner factions that will seek to place redlines for Iran on any potential negotiations. The contents of the bill outline ways Iran can increase its counterpressure on Washington, but execution of those steps rest solely on the Supreme Leader and the Iranian administration, not Parliament.

    • Since President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, Iran has been under tremendous pressure and undertaken counter-moves on the nuclear file without leaving the framework of the agreement. For now, the door to return appears to still be open. If a potential President Biden were to implement his desire to return to the deal, Iran and U.S. interests may converge, creating an opportunity for more long term negotiations.


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