President-elect takes hard line, refuses to meet Biden
Iran’s president-elect staked out a hard-line position Monday in his first remarks since his landslide election victory, rejecting the possibility of meeting with President Joe Biden or negotiating Tehran’s ballistic missile programme and support of regional militias.
The comments by Ebrahim Raisi offered a blunt preview of how Iran might deal with the wider world in the next four years as it enters a new stage in negotiations to resurrect its now-tattered 2015 nuclear deal with global powers.
The news conference in Tehran also marked the first time the judiciary chief 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. Raisi offered no specific response to that dark chapter in Iranian history but appeared confident and defiant as he described himself as a “defender of human rights”.
Behind a sea of microphones, mostly from media in Iran and countries home to Tehran-backed militias, Raisi took questions ranging from his views on the nuclear talks to relations with regional rival Saudi Arabia. He appeared nervous at the start of the hourlong session but grew increasingly at ease as he returned to vague campaign themes of promoting Iran’s economic self-sufficiency and combating corruption.
The 60-year-old cleric, a protégé of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, swept nearly 62 per cent of the 28.9 million votes in Friday’s presidential election, which saw 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 panel under Khamenei disqualified prominent reformist candidates and allies of relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani. Tehran province had a staggeringly low 34 per cent turnout, roughly half of previous years, with many polling stations noticeably deserted.
Concerning the talks over Iran’s nuclear deal, Raisi promised to salvage the accord to secure relief from US sanctions that have devastated the Iranian economy. But he ruled out any limits to Iran’s missile capabilities and support for regional militias — among other issues viewed by Washington as shortcomings of the landmark deal that the Biden administration wants addressed.
“It’s non-negotiable,” Raisi said of Iran’s ballistic missile programme, adding that the US “is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran”.
Tehran’s fleet of attack aircraft largely dates back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, forcing Iran to instead invest in missiles as a hedge against its regional Arab neighbours, which have bought billions of dollars in American military hardware over the years. Those missiles, with a self-imposed range limit of 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles), can reach across the Mideast and US military bases in the region.