New Prospects for US-Iran Relations Under Trump

However, it seems reasonable to assume that at least some of these plans would entail attacks on the economic deals that have grown out of the JCPOA. Such deals have already faced considerable difficulty on account of the US sanctions that remain in place, which make it difficult if not impossible for Iran to obtain financing or conduct transactions involving American currency. This situation has not been helped by Iran’s own stance on doing business with Western entities. Hardliners have kept Iranian businesses and more pragmatic officials under pressure to avoid providing foreigners with much access to Iranian resources and capital. 

As a well-known businessman, Trump has clearly taken a keen interest in these financial aspects of JCPOA implementation, and he has expressed concerns that the US does not stand to benefit nearly as much in this respect as does the Islamic Republic of Iran. This leaves some question as to whether Trump will allow existing agreements between Iran and American companies to stand, or whether he will undermine them for the sake of putting more pressure on the Iranians to make concessions that would be beneficial to American industries in general. 

This question is particularly current in light of the news that Seattle-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing had officially finalized its agreement to sell commercial jets to Iran’s aging and decaying fleet. The 80 aircraft specified by the deal have been valued at 16.6 billion dollars, but even with the deal having been signed Boeing is reportedly proceeding with caution due to fears that Trump could stand in the way of the deal itself, or complicate the conditions that made the deal possible. 

The Wall Street Journal reported that existing restrictions on doing business with the Islamic Republic made it necessary for Boeing and other American companies to obtain special permissions from the Treasury Department, the State Department, and Congress. And with Congress firmly in the hands of Republican allies, Trump could wield tremendous influence over all of these. As the world waits to see how Trump utilizes this influence, most American businesses remain in a sort of holding pattern with regard to their prospective deals in Iran, according to the same Wall Street Journal pieces. 

Trump’s decisions on the Boeing deal and the JCPOA may serve as significant precursors for his overall approach to Iran policy. It is well understood that that policy will be a great deal more aggressive than the Obama administration policies which made the JCPOA possible and ultimately pushed it through the approval process. And the possibility of significant confrontation between Iran and the US under Trump seems to increase with each new public statement from either side. 

On one hand, some of Trump’s closest advisors and most ardent supporters are urging him to make a priority of exhibiting control over the Islamic Republic. This point of view was expressed, for instance, by former CIA director and Trump foreign policy advisor James Woolsey on CNN, when he told host Fareed Zakaria that Iran was the most dangerous country in the world. He cited the Islamic Republic’s ongoing reliance on the slogans of “death to America” and “death to Israel,” as well as to the increase in Iranian cyberattacks against Western espionage, and the widely held belief that Tehran still intends to obtain nuclear weapons capability. 

Meanwhile, some of these threats continue to be proudly acknowledged by Iranian officials such as Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan. The Daily Mail reported on Monday that Dehqan had both responded to and further instigated the supposed danger of war with the US once Donald Trump assumes the presidency. While pointing to Trump’s aggressive streak, Dehqan also suggested that a calculation of the costs and benefits would lead Trump to back down from the threat of war, because any such war would “mean the destruction of the Zionist regime,” i.e. Israel.  

Reuters added that Dehqan had also warned that a war between Iran and the US would engulf the entire region and would also destroy the smaller Arab kingdoms, namely the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain. These countries and their larger allies have clearly been aware of an increase in Iranian influence and regional aggression in the wake of the JCPOA. For this reason, many traditional US allies in the Middle East can be expected to eagerly embrace a shift away from the policies of the Obama administration. But it still remains to be seen what sort of shift the Trump administration will offer, as well as what sort of input he will accept from Israel and the Arab Kingdoms that have tended to see themselves as enemies of the Jewish state.