Iran President-elect Says Wouldn’t Meet Biden

Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi

‘The US is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran,’ Raisi says at news conference

Srinagar: Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raeisi Monday struck a defiant note saying that he would not meet with President Joe Biden nor negotiate over Iran's ballistic missile programme and its support of regional allies while demanding the United States must return to full compliance with the 2015 landmark nuclear deal with Iran.

This was Raisi’s first news conference following his landslide victory in last week’s election.

Judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi also described himself as a “defender of human rights” when asked about his involvement in the 1988 spate of executions of members of West backed Mojahedin Khalq terror group. It marked the first time he’s been put on the spot on live television over these executions at the end of the Iran-Iraq war.

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

Raisi sitting in front of a sea of microphones spoke extempore during the hour long news conference answering questions, including on his person to Irans ties to powerful armed groups across the region.

Asked about Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support of regional militias, 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 arch enemy Israel and its regional Arab neighbors, who have purchased billions of dollars in American military hardware over the years. Those missiles, with a self-imposed range limit of 2,000 kilometers can reach across the Mideast and US military bases in the region.

Iran also relies on allies like Yemen’s Ansarallah and Lebanon’s Hezbollah for counterbalance against enemies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, respectively. It also wields enormous influence on two other key Arab countries of Iraq and Syria where it is pitted against US and its allies.

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

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

The White House did not immediately respond to Raisi’s statements Monday. Raisi will become the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the US government even before entering office.

The victory of Raisi, a protégé of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, came amid the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Millions of Iranians stayed home in defiance of a vote they saw as tipped in Raisi’s favour after a constitutional body disqualified his strongest competition.

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, Raisi won 17.9 million votes overall, nearly 62% of the total 28.9 million cast.

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 program, 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.

Then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the landmark agreement in 2018, setting in motion months of tensions across the region.

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

On Saudi Arabia, which has recently started secret talks with Iran in Baghdad to reduce tensions with Iran, Raisi said that Iran would have “no problem” with a possible reopening of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and the “restoration of relations faces no barrier.” The embassy was closed in 2016 when relations deteriorated.

Raeisi also touched on the issue of Saudi-led war on Yemen, saying, “The Islamic Republic stresses that the war against Yemen must come to a rapid halt and Yemen must be run by Yemenis."

"It is only for the Yemeni people to decide how their country should be managed,” Raeisi said, emphasizing that there should be no interference in Yemen's affairs by Saudi Arabia or countries that support Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

Raisi struck a defiant tone when asked about the 1988 executions.

After the eight year imposed war ended in 1988, members of the Iranian opposition group MeK, heavily armed by Saddam Hussein, stormed across the Iranian border from Iraq in a surprise attack. Iran ultimately blunted their assault.

Those caught by the Iranian forces were given an option. Those who showed their willingness to “clear minefields for the army of the Islamic Republic,” were pardoned and those who refused were sent to gallows on charges of treason. Raisi served on the commissions.

“I am proud of being a defender of human rights and of people’s security and comfort as a prosecutor wherever I was,” he said. “All actions I carried out during my office were always in the direction of defending human rights.”

He added: “Today in the presidential post, I feel obliged to defend human rights.”

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