Does Tehran want Obama or Romney?

The answer to this question is simple: there is no such thing as one Tehran. Opinions vary and arguments to back up the case for either Barak Obama or Mitt Romney are sometimes unexpected. The way it looks now, the hardliners prefer Romney. Just listen to the argument made by the former MP and deputy secretary of the hard-line Society for the Followers of the Path of the Islamic Revolution, Parviz Sarvari:

Some people who are influential in the country have reached the conclusion that Obama must win in this election and this view unfortunately exists that we have to do something for Obama to win the election…Under current conditions even Mitt Romney is to our interest and it has always been shown that when Republicans have come to power, they have had war-mongering behavior and have diverged from Europe, China, and Russia and in these conditions the Islamic Republic has always been able to have more interactions with  Europe, china, Russia, and other countries. Republicans have shown that they are paper tigers and make more noise but do not act. Effectively their threats have never been a threat to us. As it happens, the most attacks and pressures against Iran have been during Democratic periods.

On the other side of the spectrum stands former vice president and reformist, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who writes:

In the current American election, given the painful unilateral sanction policies that have been pursued against the nation of Iran by the administration of Mr. Obama and the harsher and more violent policies of Mr. Romney, which is closer to the military option, there are two views. The American hardliners who follow Israel welcome Mr. Romney’s election more and I think there are hardliners in Iran who also welcome this choice so that conflict and confrontation with the main enemy become more evident. In the same way part of the [Iranian] opposition which [is after] overthrow is also of the belief that Romney can better and faster bring the Islamic Republic to its knee. But in the midst of this commotion, my thinking is that Mr Obama will be elected with quite a bit of distance from Mr. Romney and all in all this is better for the world and our country.

Considering that Abatahi was imprisoned after the 2009 election and has essentially become a persona non grata within the power circles of current Iran, his opinions probably do not carry much weight. However, his view that President Obama will be re-elected is also shared by foreign policy heavy weights such as Ali Akbar Velayati, the former foreign minister and current senior advisor to Leader Ali Khamenei. Categorically denying recent reports of his meetings with US officials, Velayati relies on US polling data and suggests that Obama will probably be the victor.

Will it make a difference who wins for Iran? “America is America,” Velayati shrugs. In the past 34 years since the revolution, the Islamic Republic has “tested a variety of US presidents, Democrats and Republicans” and “we do not need of their kindness.” The bottom line for Velayati is that no matter who gets elected, Iran will not give in to the US demand to suspend “peaceful nuclear work” because “even if we waive our right temporarily, they will bring forth another excuse.”

Velayati does not reject negotiations but admits that as far as he knows, no decision has been made to talk to the US directly. But, the whole tenor of the interview suggests that Tehran is getting ready for another round of negotiations with the US within the frame of P5+1 at the end of November with the assumption that Obama will win.

At the same time, the interview makes clear that, with or without Obama, the level of mistrust is extremely high, at least among the current decision-making circles. Those inside Iran who are calling for concessions in the nuclear talks in exchange for the end of sanctions, Velayati says, do not understand the international environment. “I do not know a country in the world that has retreated against the unjust demands of Western powers and they have [in turn] fulfilled their promised concessions.”

– Farideh Farhi is an independent researcher and an affiliate graduate faculty member in political science and international relations at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. 

Farideh Farhi

Farideh Farhi is an Independent Scholar and Affiliate Graduate Faculty at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. She has taught comparative politics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, University of Hawai'i, University of Tehran, and Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran. Her publications include States and Urban-Based Revolutions in Iran and Nicaragua , Power and Change in Iran: Politics of Contention and Conciliation (co-edited with Dan Brumberg), and numerous articles and book chapters on comparative analyses of revolutions and Iranian politics. She has been a recipient of grants from the United States Institute of Peace and the Rockefeller Foundation and Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She has also worked as a consultant for the World Bank and the International Crisis Group.