Iran’s president-elect rules out meeting with Joe Biden

Iran’s new president-elect Ebrahim Raisi (AP)
13:03pm, Mon 21 Jun 2021
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Iran’s president-elect has said he would not meet with US President Joe Biden or negotiate over Tehran’s ballistic missile programme and its support of regional militias.

Judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi also described himself as a “defender of human rights” when asked about his involvement in the 1988 mass execution of some 5,000 people. It marked the first time he has been put on the spot on live television over that dark moment in Iranian history at the end of the Iran-Iraq war.

“The US is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran,” Mr Raisi said at the news conference.

Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a press conference in Tehran (AP)

Asked about Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its support of regional militias, Mr Raisi described the issues as “non-negotiable”.

Tehran’s fleet of attack aircraft date largely back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, forcing Iran to instead invest in missiles as a hedge against its regional Arab neighbours, who have purchased billions of dollars in American military hardware over the years. Iran also relies on militias like Yemen’s Houthis and Lebanon’s Hezbollah to counterbalance against enemies like Saudi Arabia and Israel, respectively.

On a possible meeting with Mr Biden, Mr Raisi simply answered: “No.”

His moderate competitor in the election, Abdolnasser Hemmati, had suggested during campaigning that he would be potentially willing to meet Mr Biden.

Mr Raisi will become the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the US government even before entering office, in part over his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticised judiciary – one of the world’s top executioners.

The victory of Mr Raisi, a protege of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, came amid the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Millions of Iranians stayed at home in defiance of a vote they saw as tipped in Mr Raisi’s favour.

US President Joe Biden (AP)

Of those who did vote, 3.7 million people either accidentally or intentionally voided their ballots, far beyond the amount seen in previous elections and suggesting some wanted none of the four candidates. In official results, Mr Raisi won 17.9 million votes overall, nearly 62% of the total 28.9 million cast.

Mr Raisi’s election puts hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear programme, at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at 60%, its highest levels ever, though still short of weapons-grade levels. Representatives of the world powers party to the deal returned to their capitals for consultations following the latest round of negotiations on Sunday.

Top diplomats from nations involved in the talks said that further progress had been made on Sunday between Iran and global powers to try to restore a landmark 2015 agreement to contain Iranian nuclear development that was abandoned by the Trump administration. They said it was now up to the governments involved in the negotiations to make political decisions.

Mr Raisi’s election victory has raised concerns that it could complicate a possible return to the nuclear agreement. In his remarks, Mr Raisi called sanctions relief as “central to our foreign policy” and exhorted the US to “return and implement your commitments” in the deal.

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