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Home » Iran’s Incoming President Vows Tough Line on Missiles and Militias

Iran’s Incoming President Vows Tough Line on Missiles and Militias

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Iran’s newly chosen president, in his first news conference, on Monday rejected the United States’ push for a broader deal with the Islamic Republic that would restrict its ballistic missiles program and curb its regional military policies in addition to containing its nuclear program.

President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric, said that Iran’s ballistic missiles and its regional policies were “nonnegotiable” and that he would not meet with President Biden. He called on the United States to comply with a 2015 accord in which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions against it.

“My serious recommendation to the U.S. government is to immediately return to their commitments, lift all the sanctions and show that they have good will,” he said in a briefing with domestic and international reporters in Tehran.

“Regional issues and missiles are not negotiable,” he said, adding that the United States had not carried through on matters it had “negotiated, agreed and committed to.”

The comments appeared to signal a hardening of Iranian policies as the conservative faction takes control of all branches of the government: Parliament, the judiciary and soon, the presidency.

Mr. Raisi, who takes office in August, said his administration’s policies would be “revolutionary and anti-corruption.”

While Iran has always insisted that its military capabilities are not up for discussion, the current president, Hassan Rouhani, who is considered moderate, has said he would be willing to meet anyone if it benefited his country. He also said broader negotiations with the United States could be possible under the umbrella of the nuclear deal once the Americans returned to the 2015 accord, which was abandoned in 2018 by President Donald J. Trump, who called it too weak. The Trump administration then imposed some 1,600 sanctions on Iran.

The United States and Iran are holding talks through intermediaries in Vienna about reviving that 2015 agreement. American and Iranian officials familiar with the talks said that an agreement had been drafted and that a deal could be possible in the six weeks that remain before Mr. Raisi takes office.

Mr. Raisi’s government would benefit from an economic boost if it begins its term with sanctions eased by a renewed deal, as well as access to billions of dollars of frozen funds. Improving the economy and people’s livelihoods was one of Mr. Raisi’s main campaign pledges.

Mr. Biden has promised to seek a return to the deal, which would remove key sanctions, including those dealing with oil, banking transfers, shipping and insurance, though penalties on conglomerates, charities and individuals accused of human rights violations would remain.

Mr. Raisi’s pledge to refuse to negotiate on missile and militia issues, which fell outside the 2015 nuclear agreement, was not a surprise, analysts said. It echoed positions he took as a candidate and was in keeping with the views of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a hard-liner who sets Iran’s key policies.

“It was quite expected — he knows more about what he is not going to do than what he is going to do in terms of any specific plans in foreign policy,” said Hamidreza Azizi, a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. “He was just repeating the general positions of the Islamic Republic.”

On whether he would meet Mr. Biden, the Iranian president-elect had a one-word answer: “No.”

Mr. Azizi attributed the striking firmness with which Mr. Raisi rejected the possibility of such a meeting to his lack of a background in diplomacy.

Mr. Raisi, who has been the head of the judiciary for the past 18 months, has no experience in politics or governing. He has spent his career in the legal system as a prosecutor, a judge and the head of the judiciary, with a brief stint as the leader of a powerful and wealthy religious conglomerate.

“The tone was not diplomatic, and this is something we are going to see more during his presidency because he has no experience in diplomacy,” Mr. Azizi said.

Talal Atrissi, a sociologist at the Lebanese University in Beirut who studies Iran and its regional allies, said Mr. Raisi’s victory was a blow to reformists and would strengthen Iran’s ties with its regional militia allies, known as “the axis of resistance.” These include Hezbollah in Lebanon, various militias in Syria and Iraq, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who receive support from Iran and share its anti-Israeli and anti-American stances.

“Raisi will stay committed to the axis of resistance,” Mr. Atrissi said.

On Monday, Mr. Raisi also declared that Mr. Trump’s so-called maximum pressure campaign against Iran had failed.

The president-elect did say that a negotiating team would continue indirect talks in Vienna until his administration took its place. Mr. Raisi said that he supported discussions that secured Iran’s national interests, but that “we will not allow talks for the sake of talks.”

He addressed accusations by international rights groups that he has had a dismal record of human rights violations during his time with the judiciary, including involvement in the mass execution of opponents of the government in 1988. That record has brought him sanctions from the United States.

Mr. Raisi said those who are accusing him must answer for their own “violations of human rights” and called himself a “defender of human rights and of people’s security and comfort.”

Narges Mohammadi, a prominent human rights activist who was sentenced to 16 years in prison for her campaign to abolish Iran’s death penalty, reacted to Mr. Raisi’s comments on her Instagram page. “I cannot accept Mr. Raisi’s presidency as one of the most serious violators of human rights in 42 years,” she said,

Mr. Raisi said that he would prioritize improving relations with neighboring countries, and that Iran was willing to restore diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, which collapsed in 2016 after Iranians protesting the kingdom’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric stormed Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran. Iran and Saudi Arabia have been quietly negotiating to restore diplomatic relations.

Mr. Raisi will preside over a government that was elected with a minority of votes in an election process largely viewed as engineered to ensure his win, and over a restive and frustrated population that is seen as capable of exploding into street unrest with the smallest trigger.

Opposition to the result of local City Council election results led to clashes in several provinces on Sunday and Monday. In the city of Yasouj, security forces on motorbikes and on foot beat the crowds with batons and fired gunshots, videos posted on social media showed. In the city of Karoun, protesters gathered outside government buildings shouting that the vote counts were rigged.

Political figures from a reformist faction that is regrouping pointed to the low voter turnout as indicative of Iranians’ discontent. Former President Mohammad Khatami issued a statement saying he “bows his head” to all those who did not vote.

“The unprecedented lack of voter participation above 50 percent is a sign of people being disillusioned and hopeless,” he said. “The gap between the people and the governing system should serve as a dangerous warning call to all.”

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.


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