President Hassan Rouhani called on Biden to change course. “Now, an opportunity has come up for the next U.S. administration to compensate for past mistakes and return to the path of complying
with international agreements through respect of international norms,” he said Sunday, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, tweeted that “the world is watching” whether a Biden administration opts for “multilateralism, cooperation and respect for law.”
Biden, who was vice president when the nuclear deal was struck, has cast the Trump administration’s Iran policies as reckless and argued that they have emboldened Tehran instead of weakening it. In promises made ahead of the election, he said he would offer Iran a “credible path back to diplomacy,” with a potential return to the nuclear deal if it once again complies with its original terms.
But the path ahead may be politically difficult. As president, Biden may have to deal with a Republican-majority Senate, where policy toward Iran has often become a divisive and partisan issue.
“In Tehran there is going to be a big question mark over whether Biden can re-engage with Iran on a diplomatic track,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“Legally he will be able to do that, but politically? Given the optics in Congress, there will be question marks over whether Biden has the stomach to take on the Republican Party on an issue as toxic as Iran.”
This election has been closely watched across Iran, with senior officials depicting the race as revealing deep flaws in American democracy and with social media users poking fun at both Washington’s political optics and their own.
In an interview with Iran’s ISNA news agency Saturday, Ali Karimi Firuzjayi, a senior parliamentary official, said that America’s election had revealed “the disgrace of Western liberal democracy.
“What a spectacle,” Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tweeted.
And across social media and WhatsApp chat groups, the memes went into overdrive, often with a satirical twist.
Echoing the blue and red electoral maps splashed across American news sites, one picture showed former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — whose disputed reelection in 2009 set off huge protests — beside a completely brown U.S. map showing that he had won all states.
One video showed Trump swinging his hips in time at election rallies, but to Iranian music. Another showed Americans lining up to vote, with their TV interviews dubbed with clips from the Iranian media’s coverage of its own elections. In Fairfax County, Va., a young blond woman in a purple fleece is heard explaining in Farsi that her vote will “cut the invasive hands of the foreigners and colonizers.”
As American voters turned out in record numbers leading up to Tuesday night, senior figures from across Iran’s political and religious establishment insisted that the outcome would not alter their country’s path.
“Whoever becomes the president of the United States does not affect our policies,” said Khamenei, in an address marking the 41st anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran that led to a protracted hostage crisis.
In a radio interview Saturday, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, insisted that even if the U.S. president changed, America’s “domineering and bullying policies” would not.
But many across the country were still glued to the results, reflecting just how deeply Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign has affected the lives of ordinary citizens.
Punishing rafts of U.S. sanctions have created severe medical shortages in Iran, as restrictions on the banking sector have made it tough to pay for imports. Food prices have also skyrocketed as goods have disappeared from the shelves.
Trump’s sweeping immigration restrictions have also divided Iranian families and dashed the hopes of others who had hoped to study, work or travel in the United States.
On Monday, the Trump administration announced a new round of sanctions, this time targeting the country’s oil sector.
In Tehran, a 45-year-old mathematician, Sohrab, said he hoped a Biden presidency would involve a less “chaotic” approach to the region “so they are more capable of making permanent changes toward stability.”
Ahead of the Iranian presidential election next year, experts said, the Biden administration will have a narrow window of opportunity to try to re-engage the same administration, led by Rouhani, that agreed to the nuclear deal in the first place.
“I think there is cautious interest across the board in Iran to have some sort of sanctions relief from a Biden administration in return for rolling back some of its nuclear activities,” Geranmayeh said.
In comments published Saturday, Zarif, a keyproponent of the 2015 nuclear deal, appeared to indicate that a shift in approach from the Biden administration might allow for a return to diplomacy.
“There are clear differences between the two campaigns,” he said of the Biden and Trump efforts. “During Trump, we witnessed numerous threats from him and his foreign affairs ministry. But what matters to us is not the tone or terms, but the actions.”
As Trump faces his final months in office, the question now, said Dalia Dassa Kaye, a political scientist at Rand Corp., is what moves Trump and Iran will make before Inauguration Day.
“There is a very real sense that this has been a very tough time for Iran under this administration,” she said. “Now what happens between November and January? What does the Biden team inherit?”