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But there are indications Iran’s leadership views Obama’s continued presence as preferable to the arrival of Romney, who some saw as more likely to cooperate with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a possible military strike on Iran.
“Obama’s people are a known quantity. Iran’s leaders know Obama has held the Israelis back from launching a military attack,” said Scott Lucas of the EA Worldview news website, which specialises in covering Iran. “They didn’t know what they were getting with Romney, and they were a little fearful.”
In a revealing speech in Tehran last week, Iran’s former envoy to Paris and the United Nations, Sadeq Kharrazi, praised Obama for his efforts in “reducing tensions between Islam and the West” and trying to “move closer to Iran”.
Obama started his presidency in 2009 with diplomatic overtures to Tehran, but successive rounds of sanctions imposed by Washington and the European Union have cut Iranian oil revenues and sharpened quarrels between factions.
“Obama was a tough president for Iran’s hardliners, because he exposed them as the problem. His … efforts to engage Iran accentuated Tehran’s internal divisions and created greater international unity,” said Karim Sadjadpour, associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
His administration now has a window to pursue talks with Iran, though campaigning for next year’s Iranian presidential election could close it down again in a few months time.
Talks are expected to resume between Iran and the P5+1 group - the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany - in November or December after the process stalled in June, and there have been signs that Iran’s most powerful figure, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, may be ready to move forward.
Negotiations have focused on conditions under which Iran might hold back its enrichment of uranium.
“The chances of getting negotiations up and running are much better with Obama, and he’s likely to go for that,” said one Western diplomat based in Tehran. “The clock is ticking and we need to get it sorted. If the Iranians are looking for a way to climb down, this is a good chance.”
Nonetheless, there is deep mistrust all round. Washington and its allies accuse Iranian negotiators of playing for time to further their programme and strengthen their position. Iran has accused the West of double standards by negotiating while imposing further punitive measures.
“In the past Iran has made steps towards rapprochement, and the Americans have retaliated by increasing sanctions,” said Mohammad Marandi of Tehran University. “There is explicit anger over the attempts to wreck the economy and prevent imports of foodstuffs and medicine, which hurts ordinary people.”
Many blame sanctions for the economic plight of Iran, which has been all but isolated from the international banking system, but they also point the finger at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for failed economic policies. Some Iranians expressed relief that Obama secured a second term.
“We hate the policies of the U.S. and Israel, but Obama’s policies are wiser. The only chance we have for the situation not to get worse was an Obama victory,” said Tehran filmmaker Amin, one of several Iranians contacted by Reuters from Dubai.
Many had feared that under Romney the risk of being attacked would have risen and that Washington would have intervened in the Middle East as it did under Obama’s Republican predecessor George W. Bush. Among them was 32-year-old dissident journalist Mira.
“Iranians believe war would be destructive and would catapult the region two or three decades back,” she said.