Iran's president-elect vows tough line on missiles, militias

Raisi says both are 'non-negotiable' and urges US to comply with 2015 nuclear accord

Iran's president-elect Ebrahim Raisi holding his first news conference following his election victory in Teheran on Monday. Mr Raisi, who takes office in August, said his administration's policies would be "revolutionary".
Iran's president-elect Ebrahim Raisi holding his first news conference following his election victory in Teheran on Monday. Mr Raisi, who takes office in August, said his administration's policies would be "revolutionary".PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

TEHERAN • Iran's newly elected president, in his first news conference, rejected the United States' push for a broader deal with the Islamic Republic that would restrict its ballistic missiles programme, in addition to containing its nuclear programme.

President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric, said on Monday that Iran's ballistic missiles and its regional policies on militias were "non-negotiable" and that he would not meet US President Joe Biden.

He called on the US to comply with a 2015 accord in which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of economic sanctions against it.

"My serious recommendation to the US government is to immediately return to their commitments, lift all the sanctions and show that they have goodwill," he said in a briefing with domestic and international reporters in Teheran.

"Regional issues and missiles are not negotiable," he said, adding that the US 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 its military capabilities are not up for discussion, outgoing president Hassan Rouhani has said he would be willing to meet anyone if it benefited his country.

He also said broader negotiations with the US could be possible under the nuclear deal once the Americans returned to the 2015 accord, abandoned in 2018 by then President Donald Trump, who called it too weak and imposed some 1,600 sanctions on Iran.

The US and Iran are holding talks through intermediaries in Vienna on reviving that 2015 agreement. US and Iranian officials familiar with the talks said an agreement had been drafted and 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 in frozen funds. Improving the economy and people's livelihoods was one of his main campaign pledges.

Mr Biden has promised to seek a return to the deal, which would remove key sanctions 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 refusal 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 hardliner 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 Mr 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."

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

Dr 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 Hizbollah 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.

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

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2021, with the headline 'Iran's president-elect vows tough line on missiles, militias'. Subscribe