Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, took the prayers at the memorial service for his rival, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died Sunday at 82. That gives some idea of the complexity of internal politics in Iran.
Mr. Khamenei in effect stayed with President Hassan Rouhani throughout the extensive, explosive negotiations with China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States that eventually led to the so-called Iran agreement in 2015. The accord included a long shelving of Iran’s nuclear program in return for the removal of a range of economic and financial sanctions imposed against it. The supreme leader never, however, hid his suspicion of the good faith of the United States, the Great Satan, in the negotiations.
The late Mr. Rafsanjani, by some contrast, has normally been considered a reformer — as opposed to Mr. Khamenei — in Iran’s reformer-vs.- hardliner political lineup. Even in the darkest days of U.S.-Iranian relations in the early 1980s, when Iran had only just released the American diplomats held prisoner in Tehran, Mr. Rafsanjani was in touch with other American diplomats, providing useful insight into what was going on in Iran. That country had, after all, been a longtime ally of the United States, which it saw as capable of protecting it from the historic ambitions of the bordering Soviet Union.
U.S.-Iranian relations stand at yet another crossroads. They should — and have to a degree been able to — profit from the conclusion of the nuclear/trade deal. One manifestation of the move toward the normal job-creating trading relationship between the two countries was the conclusion last year of a $16.6 billion deal between Iran and Boeing for 80 aircraft. There is nothing like a big contract for lots of aircraft to tangle two countries up in a mutually beneficial, war-deterring, long-term relationship.
At the same time, partly at the instigation of Israel, some American legislators continue to push to scrap the 2015 Iran nuclear/trade deal and to impose new economic and financial sanctions on Iran. What action Donald Trump as president will take with regard to Iran is not clear.
What is clear is that if the United States, under Mr. Trump, decides to scrap the Iran agreement, America’s faithful allies will not follow suit, and will continue to pursue avidly profitable commercial and financial ties with Iran. What would happen to the Boeing deal is truly unclear, although European Airbus would no doubt be rubbing its hands with glee.
In the meantime, Iran has joined with Russia and Turkey in pursuing a solution to the war in Syria, with America dealt out of the game. Talks are scheduled for later this month. What that means is that American legislators have succeeded in preventing the U.S. government and businesses from following up fully on the opening that the 2015 Iran deal and the subsequent Boeing sale presented. Their reasoning in terms of U.S. interests is hard to follow.