TEHRAN: Iran's hard-liners are hoping they can benefit from the election of US President Donald Trump, arguing that their own country needs a tougher leader to stand up to an American president whose administration has put the Islamic Republic "on notice."
They say it's time for a "revolutionary diplomacy" to confront the US after four years of a more conciliatory policy under moderate incumbent President Hassan Rouhani. Hard-liners feel energised by the Trump administration's repeated criticism of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. The agreement found little support among the group, who feel Iran gave too much away in exchange for too little in the way of sanctions relief.
The US president's tough talk on Iran plays into hard-liners' hands too, reinforcing anti-American sentiments they can use to rally their base. A group of hard-liners banded together late last year to form the Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces, which is assessing more than a dozen potential candidates.
But with less than two months to go before the May 19 election, they have yet to settle on one to run against Rouhani. One potential candidate, Mohsen Rezaei, a former chief of the elite Revolutionary Guard, has lashed out at the administration for lacking revolutionary spirit tough words in a country that prizes the heroes of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that created the current governmental system. "A group (of officials) has become hopeless and tired while trying to find a prescription for problems outside the revolutionary framework," he said.
A lack of reliable polling in Iran makes it difficult to gauge how the election could play out, particularly given that no hopefuls have formally declared their candidacies yet. But Tehran-based political analyst Soroush Farhadi said Trump's stance on Iran could bode ill for Rouhani's chances because it gives hard-liners a way to denounce his foreign policy of outreach and negotiation with the West and regional rivals.
Earlier in March, the current chief of the Guard, Mohammad Ali Jafari, warned that an "un-revolutionary viewpoint" that had taken hold in recent years was the greatest danger facing Iran. The daily Javan, which is affiliated with the Guard, has meanwhile criticised the Rouhani administration for choosing "smile diplomacy" that has done little to improve Iran's standing with the rest of the world.
While candidate Trump said he'd renegotiate or dismantle the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel fiercely opposes, his administration is continuing to implement the accord for now. Because the agreement was negotiated with a group of international powers, Washington does not have the ability to tear it up on its own.
But continued hostility to it by the Trump administration could discourage Western companies from doing business in Iran and embolden US allies such as Saudi Arabia that are hostile to Tehran.