On Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani said that approach had been “wrong” and would not succeed. “We hope today’s conditions have shown the sanctioners that their policies have failed in the past three years,” he said, in comments carried by the semiofficial Tasnim news agency.
“God-willing, the next American president will submit to laws and regulations and will return to their commitments,” he said, in a reference to the nuclear deal signed between the two nations in July 2015.
Hours later, as media outlets announced that Biden had taken a definitive lead, Rouhani’s deputy, Eshagh Jahangiri said that he hoped for a change in “destructive U.S. policies.”
“I hope we will see a change in the destructive policies of the United States, a return to the rule of law and international obligations and respect for nations,” he said, according to Iranian state media.
Biden, who was vice president when the 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 that he would offer Iran a “credible path back to diplomacy,” with a potential return to the nuclear deal if it returns to compliance 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 social media users poking fun at both Washington’s political optics and their own.
In an interview with Iran’s INSA news agency, Ali Karimi Firuzjayi, a senior parliamentary official, said that America’s ballot 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 a 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 at election rallies in time, but to Iranian music. Another showed Americans lining up to vote, with their vox-pops dubbed with clips from the Iranian media’s coverage of its own elections. In Fairfax County, Va., a young blonde 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 what appeared to be record numbers Tuesday, senior figures from across Iran’s political and religious establishment insisted that the outcome would not alter the country’s path.
“Whoever becomes the president of the United States, does not affect our policies,” said Khamenei, the supreme leader, 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 Araqchi, insisted that even if the U.S. president changed, its “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 many 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 that 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 Iranian presidential elections last 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 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,” said Geranmayeh.
In comments published Saturday, Iran’s foreign minister, and a key proponent of the 2015 nuclear deal, Mohamed Javad Zarif 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 approaches his final months in office, the question now, said Dalia Dassy Kaye, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation, is what moves Trump and Iran now make in the final months of the administration. “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?”