Analysts agree that only Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei can make a final decision on US ties – and justify it to ideologues that have despised America for a generation.
But not all agree that Ayatollah Khamenei can bring himself to do away with such a useful enemy. Last November he said not a day had passed "in which America has had good intentions toward Iran," and that the US-Iran problem is "like a matter of life and death."
"The Leader is a very rational person [and] wants to control the country and respond to reality," says Amir Mohebian, a conservative editor and analyst. "When the US sends a hard signal, the Supreme Leader is very hard. If the US sends a soft signal, he is very soft. We balance ourselves with our partner."
While Iran boasts the most pro-American population in the region, any substantive talks with the US are a big step for a regime that still chants "Death to America" at rallies.
"Some people think this is the time to solve the problem with the US in a balanced way," says Mr. Mohebian. "But others think the hostility against the US after 30 years is a main element of our identity, and if we solve it we will dissolve ourselves."
Mixed signals from Tehran
The mixed signals from Tehran can bolster either view. The firebrand Mr. Ahmadinejad wrote an unprecedented note of congratulations to Mr. Obama just days after the US election, noting high expectations for change. Despite fierce anti-Western rhetoric and verbal attacks against the US, Ahmadinejad has reached out more than any of his predecessors, telling Americans the US could be a "great friend" of Iran.