Since the victory of Donald Trump in the presidential election, a debate has been going on in Tehran among decision makers and foreign policy experts about the direction of U.S. policy with Iran and how the regime can cope with a potentially more hostile attitude from Washington.
A number of current and former diplomats and foreign policy advisors with experience in dealing with the U.S. are asking the government to exploit anti-Trump sentiments and utilize political divisions in Washington.
These recommendations are inspired by Iran’s past successful experiences, notably during the Bush administration when Tehran established good relations with politicians who opposed Bush policies and was able to work with segments of the anti-war movement to influence public opinion and shape U.S. policy toward Tehran.
Hossein Mousavian, former Iranian ambassador to Germany and a leading member of the Iranian nuclear negotiating team in 2003-2005 who is currently living in the US and advocating on behalf of the Iranian regime, has advised the government to exploit anti-Trump sentiments. In an article published by “Iran Diplomacy” he wrote, “Domestic and international challenges that Trump’s administration will face, can create opportunities for Tehran. With the civil resistance movement gaining momentum across the U.S., countries targeted by Trump, including Iran, have found a new opportunity. Unnecessary demonstration of hard power at this point will deprive Iran of the benefits of such opportunities. The time has come for Iran to play the soft power game.”
In a panel discussion in Tehran, Mousavian also declared, “Trump’s unwise actions have provoked unprecedented backlash in the U.S. and around the world. This backlash makes it harder for Trump to act against Iran but creates a unique opportunity for Iran to carry out its soft diplomacy and. We should avoid doing anything that could bring consensus in the U.S. and in the world against Iran. The best strategy to counter Trump is a policy that would align the Western public opinion with Iran and mobilize it against Trump.”
On March 7, during a roundtable in Tehran which included Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister and former diplomats, Nasser Hadian, a top advisor to the Foreign Ministry proposed his plan to counter Trump: “We should boost people-people communication as far as possible to influence public opinion in the U.S., We should act wisely…The media have turned against Trump and we should use the opportunity.” Similarly, Iran’s former ambassador to Mexico told Iranian news agency, IRNA that, “Trump’s actions have turned the public opinion on behalf of Iran and we should exploit it against Trump administration.”
Sadegh Kharazi, former Iranian ambassador to France who worked at the Iranian mission to the UN in the 1990s, has suggested that the government “should not let different layers of power in Washington to reach a consensus over animosity toward Iran.” Kharazi proposed that “pro-Iran lobbies inside the U.S. should accentuate the political divisions in the U.S.”
Iran’s past experience in exploiting political divisions in 2013, during his confirmation speech as Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif recounted his activities during the Bush administration when he served as Iran’s ambassador to the UN and declared, “I had the approval of the regime’s highest authorities and established contacts with anti-Bush politicians within the U.S. to attempt to cause division amongst the decision makers and neutralize the White House’s policy toward Iran.”
This part of Zarif’s activities have been reported by U.S. media. In 2009, during a defamation lawsuit that involved the Washington based organization “National Iranian American Council” (NIAC), some of email exchanges between Zarif and NIAC were released that shed light on Tehran’s tactics to exploit political divisions in the U.S. and influence U.S. policy toward.
Iran was also carrying a large-scale media and PR campaign to convince public opinion that the Iranian nuclear program was peaceful, that the Iranian regime was ready for peace and dialogue, while portraying the Bush administration as warmonger.
Now, in order to exploit anti-Trump sentiments and blame the U.S. administration for hostilities toward Iran, the Iranian regime needs to present a soft image of itself. But the continued violation of human rights in Iran and the regime’s policies in the region, including its military involvement in Syria and direct participation in the slaughter of Syrian people, along with its growing support to militant Shia groups across the region, will make it difficult for Tehran to fool American public opinion and play the victim card once again.
BY HASSAN DAI, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR – 04/17/17
Hassan Dai is a human rights activist, political analyst and editor of the Iranian American Forum.