05:32 GMT04 December 2020
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    Despite cautious optimism in Iran after the initial results of the US presidential election, a thawing relationship with Washington will not be an easy task, thinks a Tehran-based expert. The reason for this is not only the bitter aftertaste of Trump's policies but also the uncertainty that prevails about what path the new administration will take.

    Results in the US elections may not be final yet but in Iran, the mood seems to be optimistic.

    Although there have been no official statements and the country's politicians refrain from commenting on the situation, Iran's main index of shares rose by 2 per cent on Wednesday, marking the biggest increase in more than three weeks.

    Hamed Mousavi, a professor of political science at Tehran University, sees it as a "positive sign" but treats the situation with cautious optimism.

    The reason for this is that it is simply too early to tell what route the new US government - if it does end up coming to power - will take.

    It's Complicated 

    One thing is for sure, says Mousavi, it will be a "difficult and complicated" path.

    On the surface, the apparent election of the Democrat candidate Joe Biden should bring a sigh of relief to Iran's government, suffocated as it is by the western sanctions.

    He will not be mild with the Islamic Republic but he is likely to go back to the negotiating table and revive talks about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, which the US signed up to in 2015 and from which President Donald Trump departed in 2018, shutting the door behind him.

    For Biden and Iran, the revival of that process could be a "win-win" situation. Washington and its allies (including those in Israel) will get their eyes and noses into the Islamic Republic's nuclear programme, whereas Tehran will see the lifting of the suffocating western sanctions that have been sinking the country's economy. 

    U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks next to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a news conference to announce the Trump administration's restoration of sanctions on Iran, at the U.S. State Department in Washington, U.S., September 21, 2020.
    © REUTERS / POOL
    U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks next to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a news conference to announce the Trump administration's restoration of sanctions on Iran, at the U.S. State Department in Washington, U.S., September 21, 2020.

    But Mousavi says that won't happen that quickly. "During his four years in office, Trump has put many sanctions in place and it will be tough to remove them without going through the US Congress. Plus, there is a chance that the people in a future Biden administration will not agree to lift those sanctions without getting additional concessions from Iran, and that could present an additional problem".

    It's hard to tell what "additional concessions" the Biden administration might ask for. It could be the demand to cut its support for Hezbollah, a Shi'ite militia of Lebanon, or it could be the request to halt Iran's ballistic missile programme that bothers a number of Gulf states. But whatever the ultimatum might be, it is hard to believe that Tehran will be willing to compromise its national interests.

    Much Uncertainty 

    However, there are other complications too. Presidential elections in Iran are expected in seven months from today, and Mousavi is certain that Washington will not take any steps until it is clear who the new boss in Tehran is.

    "They might ease some of the restrictions like, for example, Trump's travel ban for Iranian citizens [imposed in May - Ed.] but anything serious will need to wait for the new administration to come in, and that might take up to 10 months".

    Yet, much will also depend on the identity of that new administration, its willingness to talk to Washington and compromise with it. 

    As of July, Iran's presidential race had at least nine potential candidates for the top job. Many on that list have been characterised as either hardliners or conservatives and if they come into office, chances there will be a breakthrough in Iran-US talks might be low. 

    The bitter aftertaste of Washington's decision to assassinate one of Iran's top commanders, Qasem Soleimani, will also have an impact. In January, Tehran will mark its first anniversary since his death and calls to avenge his death that have recently been murmured can resurface.

    "For many Iranians, his assassination was a major red line that Washington crossed. We will have to see whether the decision-makers in Tehran will [pin the blame of it on] Trump's administration only or whether they will hold all Americans accountable. It will largely depend on the approach Biden and his people will take towards the Islamic Republic. If that approach will be hawkish, it will muddy the water and make it more difficult to reach an agreement".

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