Iran’s president-elect staked out a hardline position on Monday. In his first remarks since his landslide election victory, Ebrahim Raisi rejected the possibility of meeting with President Joe Biden—and he won’t negotiate on several key subjects. His comments offer a blunt preview of how Iran might deal with the world in the next four years.
Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain, and Iran have met in Vienna six times to try to restore a 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement. The agreement limits how much enriched uranium (needed for nuclear weapons) Iran can possess. So far, little progress has been made. But top Russian representative Mikhail Ulyanov expects the group to meet again in a week.
The Trump administration abandoned the Iran nuclear agreement in 2018. Since then, Iran has ramped up its uranium enrichment. Some diplomats are concerned that Raisi’s election complicates any hope of returning to the agreement and calming fears in the region.
The 60-year-old cleric swept nearly 62% of votes in Friday’s presidential election. However, that contest saw the lowest voter turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Millions of Iranians stayed home to defy a vote they saw as tipped in Raisi’s favor.
Raisi’s news conference marks the first time he found himself confronted on live television about his role in the 1988 mass execution of political prisoners at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Experts say as many as 5,000 people were executed then. Raisi served on the execution commissions.
The new leader offered no specific response about that dark chapter in Iranian history. Instead, he appeared confident and defiant, describing himself as a “defender of human rights.”
Behind a sea of microphones—mostly from Iranian media and Tehran-supported countries—Raisi took questions ranging from his views on nuclear talks to relations with regional rival Saudi Arabia. He appeared nervous at the start. But he grew more at ease as he spoke of promoting Iran’s economic self-sufficiency and combating corruption.
Concerning Iran’s nuclear deal, Raisi made promises to secure relief from U.S. sanctions that have devastated the Iranian economy. But he has ruled out any limits to Iran’s missile program. He also won’t agree to stop supporting regional terrorist militias in Yemen and Lebanon. The Biden administration wants these and other issues addressed.
“It’s nonnegotiable,” Raisi says of Iran’s ballistic missile program. He adds that the United States “is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran.”
Today, Iran’s missiles can reach across the Mideast. They could reach U.S. military bases in the region.
When asked about a possible meeting with President Biden, Raisi tersely answered: “No.” He frowned and stared ahead, without explaining. His election competitor, Abdolnasser Hemmati, had said he might be willing to meet with the current U.S. President.
In Jerusalem, new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warns that Raisi’s election is “the last chance for the world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement and to understand who they’re doing business with.”
“These guys are murderers, mass murderers: a regime of brutal hangmen must never be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction that will enable it to not kill thousands, but millions,” Bennett says.
Israel has long stated that it opposes arch-enemy Iran’s nuclear program. Israeli officials say the country would prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes.
Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips. — Proverbs 25:19
(Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi waves at the conclusion of his press conference in Tehran, Iran, on Monday, June 21, 2021. AP/Vahid Salemi)