Many feel much better than they have felt in the last four years under the Trump administration, setting a mood which could count as a serious influence on the upcoming elections in Iran.

The US has been the number one enemy for Iran since the 1979 Revolution, which toppled a pro-Washington Iranian regime and brought in a government influenced by an emboldened Shia clergy. 

“America is the number one enemy of our nation,” said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, in 2017 after then-President Donald Trump signaled that Washington will withdraw from the nuclear deal with Tehran. 

But now with the swearing-in of the new Biden administration yesterday, both the political and popular mood in Iran has shown a significant shift, according to Fatima A Karimkhan, a Tehran-based Iranian journalist. 

Karimkhan has been hearing optimistic statements from a lot of ordinary people on the streets of Tehran. “The enemy of Iran's people is not in the White House anymore,” is one of the common hearings in the capital these days, she tells TRT World. 

Despite Khamenei’s hardline stance against the US, ordinary people and a significant part of the Iranian political establishment appear to distinguish different forces in the American politics. 

“People are super excited about the new Biden presidency, mostly because he is more reliable [than Trump], and people look at him as they looked at Obama,” Karimkhan says. 

“His decisions will have a critical effect on Iran, mostly on the country’s upcoming election,” Karimkhan views. 

In June, the Shia-majority country will hold its presidential elections, which will again entertain a political theatre for the perennial fight between moderates and hardliners. 

Hardliners versus moderates

The US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and Trump’s heavy sanctions over Tehran, increasing inflation and the financial crisis, has strengthened Iran’s hardliners considerably, weakening the moderate Hassan Rouhani government. 

Despite hardliners’ call for a preparation for an all-out war with the US, the Rouhani government has urged for political calm ahead of the November elections, according to Mehmet Bulovali, an Iraqi-Kurdish analyst and a former adviser to the Iraqi presidency. 

“There is a power struggle in Iran between hardliners led by the Revolutionary Guards and moderates led by the country’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani,” said the analyst in a previous interview with TRT World.

“The Iranian government does not want to have a war with the US, waiting for the results of the November elections. But the Revolutionary Guards want to take an immediate revenge of their former leader Qasem Soleimani’s assassination,” Bulovali added. 

People pay tribute to senior Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani as they visit his grave during the one year anniversary of his killing in a US attack, at his hometown of Kerman, Iran January 2, 2021.
People pay tribute to senior Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani as they visit his grave during the one year anniversary of his killing in a US attack, at his hometown of Kerman, Iran January 2, 2021. (Credit: Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) / Reuters Archive)

With Biden’s election, moderates appear to have a powerful argument against the hardliners, as they foresee a political revival in Washington. They tell their counterparts that their patience and waiting might pay back finally - this may also benefit them in the elections. 

“If he goes back to the JCPOA, everything will change in Iran,” is another common expression across Tehran, Karimkhan says. 

Khamenei, the ultimate mediator between moderates and hardliners, has also appeared to favour waiting rather than entering a dangerous military engagement with the US. 

“There are certainly differences between the policies of Democrats and Republicans, as well as between the personality traits of Trump and Biden,” wrote Kamal Kharazi, an adviser to Khamenei.

“We should not rush. We need to see what the sum of American policy will be,” he added. 

But Karimkhan cautions that the resurgence of moderates in Iranian politics could only sustain itself if Biden reversed Trump’s anti-Iran position and helped Tehran make a comeback to the international system like Obama’s administration tried to do. 

“There is also a growing fear about him [Biden] anyway. If he doesn't do what people are waiting for, especially about the JCPOA, it would be a failure for moderators in Iran,” the Iranian journalist warns. 

“So far the atmosphere is hopeful, but it is not clear how long it takes,” she adds. 

The Gordian Knot: the nuclear deal

She predicts that Biden will rejoin the JCPOA, but if he refuses, the political situation in Iran “will be critical”, Karimkhan notes. 

Biden has previously signalled that he wants to rejoin the nuclear deal. 

“I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy. If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations,” Biden wrote in a CNN op-ed in September.  

However, the revival of the nuclear deal might be too difficult for both sides after four turbulent years under Trump, which feature high-profile assassinations of Iranian political and scientific figures. Iran has also stopped complying with some parts of the deal in what is a retaliation to the US withdrawal. 

“Politically, it would be difficult inside Iran to get Iran to recommit to living up the principles of the JCPOA. It will also be difficult given the American politics as well to get the political approval back to the JCPOA because politics shifted since the Obama administration,” Bryza, a former US diplomat, told TRT World in an interview yesterday. 

Under Trump, Washington has developed “a sharper focus on Iran’s nefarious behaviour and support for [Lebanon's] Hezbollah and [Shia] militias in Iraq,” the diplomat said. 

As a result, it will be difficult for him to get the US back in the JCPOA, he says. 

“But he will try,” he adds. 

Maximum pressure

Experts across the board think that Trump’s maximum policy campaign, which has not created a tangible result in terms of Iran’s bowing to the US pressure, will end under Biden. 

“He will certainly not continue the maximum pressure policy over Iran, which’s Trump’s policy,” Bryza said.  

With one of his executive orders on his first day at the White House, the new US president has already lifted the US travel ban to various countries - this includes Iran. 

Source: TRT World