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Watching Obama from Tehran

While describing Obama's victory and America's electoral system, the article puts special emphasis on what it calls "Obama's praise of America's actions in Afghanistan, and George Bush Sr.'s war in Iraq." It goes on to say, "Obama has never been peace-seeking, because of his approval of some of some America's military disputes."

Jomhuriye Eslami, another right-wing newspaper, went a step further. "That Black Man Will Never Change U.S. Policy" was the headline of its editorial. It went on to say that despite Obama's victory, U.S. policy will remain the same because of "the structure of the American regime, which was established by capitalists, Zionists, and racists." In other words, Obama's victory won't change the fact that, to Iran's leadership, America remains a racist state controlled by Israel.

More important to note is that the leading protagonist in the media assault against Obama seems to be Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Keyhan and Jomhuriye Eslami are the two newspapers closest to him. This is a strong indication of how worried Iran's leadership is.

However, not all parties and individuals in Iran see Obama as a threat. The reformists in Iran take a very different view than the hard-liners, as indicated by Ebrahim Yazdi, the secretary-general of the Freedom Movement of Iran. He sees Obama's election not as a threat but as an opportunity. In an exclusive interview with the Tehran-based IR Diplomacy publication, Yazdi called on Iran's foreign policy establishment to declare openly that "Iran is prepared to negotiate unconditionally with America over issues such as current disputes in the Middle East, and bilateral differences." Yazdi went on to say, "If the government of Iran undertakes such an initiative, it would be positive for relations between Tehran and Washington, and the international community as a whole".

Even moderate conservatives in Iran seem to be willing to give Obama a chance. Tabnak news, a leading moderate conservative news agency in Iran, published a piece which quoted a U.S. soldier telling CNN that Obama is "an angel rescuing (America) from hell." Meanwhile, the deputy head of the Majles, Mohammad Hassan Abu Tarabi, said that he hoped that "Obama can learn from Bush's failed policies, especially in the Middle East, and try to reform U.S. behavior."

Obama's election has even been used for satirical purposes. In one spoof report by Shahab News, which is close to Ayatollah Rafsanjani, it was reported that former Iranian presidential candidate Ayatollah Karrubi had contacted Obama on the night of the election, telling him "not to sleep a wink." Karrubi's "suggestion" was based on his own bitter experience. On the night of the Iranian presidential elections of 2005, he was leading Ahmadinejad before he went to sleep. By the time he woke up, Ahmadinejad had beaten him. Karrubi believes that his victory was jinxed by his sleep. He didn't want the same to happen to Obama, and that's why he supposedly contacted him.

The most intriguing reaction to Obama's victory in Iran was reported by the Saudi-based Al Arabiya. In a report, this news outlet said that some Iranian officials had interpreted Obama's election as as a sign of the arrival of the Mahdi. This is because Obama's first name, Barack, means blessing and his second name, Hussein, is the name of the third Shiite imam who Iranians revere. The Saudi channel refused to reveal the name of the Iranian website on which its reports were based.

This raised many eyebrows in Iran, as Al Arabiya had recently been expelled from Tehran. Perhaps the Saudis were getting even with the Iranians, or were following in the footsteps of Shahab News by producing their own spoof report. In any case, its Iranian audience is not impressed by Obama's spiritual credentials. Nor are Iran's decision makers. In the meantime, they will keep busy worrying about a U.S. military attack until the last second of Bush's term in office.

After the recent U.S. attack against Syria, they are worried that Bush may do the same to them. Iran issued its own warning to the U.S. against any invasion plans. They hope it will act as a deterrence. The rest is up to the U.S. -- and soon, Barack Obama.