Which U.S. presidential candidate is Iran’s favorite?

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

By : Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Although Tehran would prefer a totally different political establishment in the United States, it prefers one American presidential candidate to the others: Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders. It bases its preference on candidates’ view of the nuclear deal, and their policies toward the Middle East, particularly Syria, Israel, Iraq and the Gulf.

Tehran would rather see a Democrat than a Republican as the next U.S. president. At one time there were minimal differences between the parties’ views on Iran, but in the last few years the gap has widened.

Democrats are more likely to honor the nuclear deal, which Iran needs to push the U.N. Security Council to lift crippling economic sanctions. This will enhance its legitimacy globally, which will facilitate its trade and military activities in other nations.

Since the odds appear to favor a Democratic victory in the 2016 election, bilateral ties are more likely to improve or at least not worsen.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Republicans view Iran’s increasing influence in the Middle East as a national security threat. They tend to criticize Tehran more harshly than Democrats for its increasing military activities in Iraq and Syria. Democratic candidates prefer to reduce American boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, and turn a blind eye to what will fill the resulting vacuum.

Democrats believe in further rapprochement with Tehran. With a Democratic president, Tehran will feel empowered to leverage its legitimacy and ratchet up its global position. Democrats view positively Iran’s fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This is a short-term vision, ignoring the long-term consequences of Tehran’s military involvements and support for Shiite proxies across the region.

The candidates’ views on Iran’s rival Israel is critical. While both parties publicly support Israel, Democrats have recently had strained ties with it due to their leanings toward the nuclear deal and further rapprochement with Tehran.


Democrats tend to prefer isolationism to more engagement in the region. From Tehran’s perspective, a U.S. withdrawal creates a vacuum that can be filled by it or its Shiite proxies. Also, due to ISIS and the latest regional developments, Democrats lean more toward the idea of Iranian leadership in the region than Arab leadership. For Tehran, a Democratic president will tip the regional balance of power in its favor.

Sanders subscribes to these views, and is much more left-leaning than the other Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley. Sanders is isolationist and in favor of negotiating with Tehran. In the last Democratic debate, he emphasized the role of Iran. He is the only candidate who has frequently and strongly stressed the idea of cooperating with Tehran to deal with regional issues.

Clinton prefers more U.S. regional engagement. For example, she favors a no-fly zone in Syria, which would threaten Tehran’s interests there. Sanders focuses on domestic issues, and seeks to emulate European countries’ domestic and foreign policies. It follows then that if he becomes president, there would be improved U.S.-Iranian ties since European nations enjoy better ties with Tehran than Washington.

Since the odds appear to favor a Democratic victory in the 2016 election, bilateral ties are more likely to improve or at least not worsen.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC. He can be contacted at: Dr.Rafizadeh@post.harvard.edu, or on Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in the Column section are their own and do not reflect RiyadhVision’s point-of-view.


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