salehiisfahani6_ATTA KENAREAFP via Getty Images_rouhani ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images

Iran’s Empowered Hardliners

US Iran hawks argue that Donald Trump’s re-imposition of sanctions in 2018 has given his successor, Joe Biden, leverage in the new round of negotiations over restarting the 2015 nuclear deal. In fact, Trump's approach discredited and sidelined the Iranian moderates needed to secure a new agreement.

BLACKSBURG, VA – Iran’s moderates – who have controlled the presidency for 24 of the last 32 years – are about to be voted out of power, and one person shoulders most of the blame: former US President Donald Trump.

In 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and re-imposed harsh economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Iran had not violated the JCPOA’s terms. Trump simply wanted to force more concessions from its leaders – or even to create enough economic distress to bring about regime change.

Trump did manage to spur a political shift in Iran – but not the one he wanted. Anti-Western hardliners swept last year’s parliamentary election, crushing their moderate and reformist rivals. Now, Iran is gearing up for a presidential election in June, and moderate politicians aligned with outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who championed the JCPOA, will almost certainly lose.