Iran’s top leaders on Wednesday rejected the idea that Donald Trump’s surprise victory undercuts the international deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear programs, as a top contender for secretary of state in the Trump administration said he doubts the president-elect will “just rip the agreement up” on his first day of office.
But Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who has acknowledged he is “in the mix” for a top Trump Cabinet slot, also said the incoming president will have a mandate from the Republican-dominated Congress to sharply enforce the 2015 nuclear accord — and that Iranians “likely will hang themselves” with violations of the deal.
Mr. Corker made the comments as advocacy groups reached new heights to jockey for influence of Mr. Trump’s approach to Iran. The Islamic republic’s two top leaders dismissed concerns that Mr. Trump’s win jeopardized the agreement, which lifted punishing international sanctions on the Iranian economy.
In separate remarks on Iranian state television, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final authority over all policy matters in the nation, said the surprise victory for Mr. Trump, a fierce critic of the nuclear deal, will have little practical impact on the agreement or how Iran conducts itself.
“We neither mourn nor cheer because it makes no difference to us. We do not have any judgment on the election,” said Ayatollah Khamenei. “We are also not worried. And we are ready for any possible incident.”
Mr. Rouhani said Iran will honor its commitments under the nuclear accord but suggested that Tehran will continue to conduct itself as it wishes on other fronts, regardless of any policy shifts in Washington.
“If a president is changed here and there, it has no impact on the will of Iran,” Mr. Rouhani said. “Based on the deal, we implement our commitment.”
The U.S. is only one signatory to the deal, which was also signed by Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. None of the allies has called for killing the deal or renegotiating major provisions.
Without mentioning Mr. Trump by name, the Iranian president said, “The world is not under the will of a single individual and party. The reality of the world will impose many things on extremists.
“Nobody should imagine it is possible to play with Iran,” he said.
There has been a sharp debate in Washington over whether Iran has honored its commitments. Critics of the deal say Tehran clearly has not moderated its behavior in other areas, including testing new ballistic missiles and continuing to support movements across the region that the U.S. government regards as terrorist.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which is overseeing the accord’s implementation, said in a report last week that Iran had exceeded the amount of “heavy water” — material that can be used to produce fissile material for a plutonium bomb — allowed under the deal.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump repeatedly slammed the accord and at one point called it the “worst deal ever negotiated.” But he has been unclear on whether he would immediately pull out of the agreement as president or whether he would simply toughen U.S. enforcement of Tehran’s observance of its commitments.
Mr. Corker, who told CNBC on Wednesday that he has talked with Mr. Trump’s team about a potential secretary of state appointment, later said on CNN that he doesn’t think Mr. Trump “will tear [the deal] up, and I don’t think that’s the way to start.”
“What I think he should do is build consensus with these other countries that [the Iranians] are definitely violating the agreement,” said Mr. Corker, adding that the incoming administration should get serious about “pushing back strongly against” Iran’s support of terrorist movements in the region, including Syria and Yemen.
“There’s multiple pressure points that we can push back against Iran on,” the Tennessee Republican said. “My guess is that the president-elect will pursue those and over time really make a final decision as to how he wants to deal with this issue.”
Analysts say renegotiation is likely to prove difficult at this point — namely because the Iranians appear to be satisfied with the deal and have little incentive to reopen talks with U.S. diplomats.
Vying for influence
Washington-based advocacy groups on both sides of the Iran issue are mobilizing to try to sway the next president. The National Iranian American Council, which backed the nuclear agreement, released a report this week calling on Mr. Trump not to abandon the accord but to “expand on the opening with Iran” that the deal created.
Also, 76 national security analysts signed onto the report, which argues that “the nuclear deal itself was a significant contribution to regional stability.”
“The deal proved that diplomacy with Iran can bear fruit despite skepticism about Iranian sincerity, the inclination of Iran’s Supreme Leader to abide by the deal, or the ability of Iranian hardliners to sabotage diplomacy,” the group said.
But Republican lawmakers seem unlikely to pay the report much heed, and several of Mr. Trump’s key advisers have aligned with an entirely different advocacy group that stands in stark opposition to the National Iranian American Council.
The other group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has openly called for regime change in Tehran and has long-held ties to Trump confidants Rudolph W. Giuliani, John R. Bolton and Newt Gingrich — all three of whom are reportedly in the running with Mr. Corker for top foreign policy and security posts in the Trump administration.
The resistance council is associated with the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or People’s Muhajedeen of Iran, which Washington once listed as a terrorist organization.
Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Bolton and Mr. Gingrich have spoken out on behalf of the group for years, appearing at its annual rallies near Paris and calling for the MEK’s removal from the U.S. terrorist list. Their efforts reached fruition in 2012 after much deliberation by the Obama administration.
A posting on NCRI’s website on Monday touted a New York Post op-ed by Mr. Bolton asserting that “Iran is now on a path to deliverable nuclear weapons, legitimized by Obama’s wretched deal.” Mr. Trump, Mr. Bolton wrote, should “abrogate in his first days in office.”
• This article was based in part on wire-service reports.