In Tehran, White House race is talk of town
Tehran: For Iran, struggling from sanctions imposed under Washington's policy of "maximum pressure", the US presidential race raises hope of change -- but also fears that life could get even worse.
"The general view is that the result of this presidential election is crucial for the population," said Zeinab Esmaili, who covers foreign affairs for the Iranian reformist newspaper Shargh.
Tehran and Washington, long-time enemies, have not maintained diplomatic relations for decades.
But tensions have soared under US President Donald Trump, who pulled out of a nuclear accord negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama -- as well as other nations -- and placed sweeping sanctions on the country.
Iranians have grown used to having their day-to-day lives hit hard by foreign policy decisions taken far away in the US.
"It is natural for us to talk about the American elections," said Mohammad Amin Naqibzadeh, a 28-year-old geopolitics student.
In May 2018, Trump withdrew from a landmark deal that gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for UN-verified guarantees that it is not seeking nuclear weapons.
The subsequent waves of sanctions on Iran have crippled its economy.
- 'International arrogance' -
So along with the US election, two topics dominate conversation in Tehran: the rise in prices and the declining exchange rate of the Iranian rial.
Both crises are linked deeply to US relations with Tehran.
Iran has also been battered by the coronavirus pandemic, with related restrictions adding to the Islamic republic's economic woes.
The value of its currency has slumped dramatically.
The rial has lost nearly 90 percent of its value against the dollar in the past three years, fuelling galloping inflation.
Iran regularly denounces as "lies" Washington's claims that the sanctions do not affect ordinary citizens.
Officially, the authorities have a clear view on who they support: neither candidate.
Both Trump and Democratic White House hopeful Joe Biden are two sides of the same coin of Washington's "international arrogance".
For Iran's leaders, Washington is often dubbed the "Great Satan", or simply the "enemy".
But on Tehran's streets, many residents say they believe they would be better off with Biden.
If Trump is re-elected, people expect to get more of the same "maximum pressure" policy and crushing sanctions.
In September, Biden wrote that he "will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy".
Some hope that could mean the potential return of the US to the UN nuclear agreement on Iran -- a deal struck while Biden was Obama's vice-president.
"There is therefore hope he will return to this agreement," said Mohammad Ali Kiani, a 28-year-old politics student.
"In general, people think that a victory for Biden... would be better for Iran," said Esmaili, the journalist for Shargh.
But not all are convinced.
"People are hoping for an improvement in their economic situation," said journalist Maziar Khosravi.
"It does not matter to them who is in the White House."
Others seem to expect that Trump will win a second term -- and that for them, life will grow worse.
"They see it as very likely that Trump will start a second term and that... the rise in prices and the devaluation of the rial will continue," Esmaili said.
- 'Illusion' -
The news that Trump tested positive for the coronavirus sparked several conspiracy theories on Iranian social media -- as well as jokes linking the state of his health to the exchange rate.
If Trump wins a second term, the continuation of his hardline policies will further impact politics in Iran.
"A radical American approach also radicalises (politics) in Iran," said reformist economist Saeed Leylaz.
Leylaz wants to believe that if Biden won, he would "seriously change US policy towards Iran".
But others are sceptical, and say a Biden victory would unlikely change much -- not least because there are only five months between the January 20 inauguration of the US winner, and Iran's own presidential elections on June 18.
Hamidreza Taraqi, a senior official in the conservative alliance which won legislative elections in February, is opposed to any discussion with Washington.
He pointed out that the decades-long political conflict between Tehran and Washington has already "tested both Democrats and Republicans", and calls the idea of change under Biden an "illusion".
"Neither have embarked on a path that will resolve the problems" of Iran, he said.