Iran has hailed Donald Trump’s departure as the final day of a “tyrant”, saying it was now up to Joe Biden’s new administration to forge peace.
In an attempt to signal openness to Mr Biden, the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, urged him to re-enter the landmark nuclear deal that Mr Trump controversially withdrew from in 2018.
A “tyrant’s era came to an end and today is the final day of his ominous reign,” Mr Rouhani said on Wednesday. He added that the “ball is in America’s court” to start nuclear talks afresh.
Mr Rouhani’s remarks underline how relieved Tehran is to see Mr Trump go, after four years of being his Public Enemy No 1 abroad.
While Mr Trump never looked likely to carry out forced regime change, his aggressive stance was an unnerving change for Iran after the conciliatory years of Barack Obama.
Central to it was Mr Trump’s decision to pull out of the JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, designed by Mr Obama to limit Tehran’s nuclear programs in return for sanctions relief.
Mr Trump believed it did little but postpone the time it would take for Tehran to perfect nuclear weapons, and made good on his campaign pledge to scrap it. In doing so, he also reimposed harsh sanctions that have sent the Iranian economy into freefall.
Last January, he also ordered a missile strike that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guards general Qassim Soleimani, the mastermind of Iran’s military operations in the wider Middle East.
While critics consider it to have been a reckless, bellicose move, Tehran never delivered on its threats of revenge, and many military experts believe it served due warning on Iran to tread carefully.
Mr Soleimani also enjoyed a cult-like influence among Iran’s proxies in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, which his replacement has struggled to maintain.
Despite Mr Rouhani’s overtures to Mr Biden, it is far from clear whether the nuclear deal can be revived. While Mr Biden is keen to do so, he is insistent that Tehran must first resume “strict compliance” on restrictions on uranium enrichment.
Tehran has already been flouting those restrictions for more than two years, enriching uranium to more than 12 times the cap set by the deal. It says it will only return to compliance if Washington lifts sanctions first, something that Mr Biden has already ruled out. To do so would look unacceptably weak, especially after the hawkish stance of his predecessor.
In a bid to work out a way forward, the incoming US president has appointed many of the Obama-era officials who drew up the original JCPOA accord.
But their room for manoeuvre will be severely limited. Both Israel and America’s Gulf allies, which see Iran as a major threat, were firmly supportive of Mr Trump’s scrapping of the deal, and will oppose any effort to revive it.
Moreover, in seeking leverage in any future negotiations, Tehran will also likely point out that if Mr Trump gets back into office again, he might well simply tear the deal up once more.
With his credibility having taken a battering over the storming of the Capitol, that prospect may now seem less likely.
But as long as Mr Trump is there to criticise from the sidelines – which he undoubtedly will – Mr Biden will be under pressure to show Iran that he is no soft touch.