Tehran: After his landslide victory in last week’s election, Iran’s president-elect said Tuesday he would not meet with President Joe Biden nor negotiate over Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its support of regional militias. Ebrahim Raisi described himself as a ‘defender of human rights’ when asked about his role in the 1988 mass execution of 5,000 people. His first live television interview was over that bitter moment in Iranian history at the end of the Iran-Iraq war.
During the press conference, Raisi said that the US had an obligation to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran. Raisi sat in front of a sea of microphones, most of which were from Iran and countries that have militias supported by Tehran. During the hour-long news conference, Raisi appeared nervous at first, but soon relaxed. Asked about Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for regional militias, he described both issues as ‘non-negotiable’.
The Iranian air force was largely built before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which forced Iran to invest in missiles as a hedge against its regional Arab neighbors, who have bought American military hardware for billions of dollars over the years. Iran also relies on militias like Yemen’s Houthis and Lebanon’s Hezbollah as counterbalances to enemies like Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Asked about meeting Biden, Raisi simply replied, ‘No’. His moderate rival in the race, Abdolnasser Hemmati, mentioned meeting Biden during the election campaign. The White House did not immediately respond to Raisi’s comments. Raisi is a protege of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and he has been sanctioned by the U.S. for his involvement in mass executions. The lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic led to his victory last Friday. The Iranian people stayed home in defiance of an election they claimed was skewed in Raisi’s favor. About 3.7 million people either accidentally or on purpose, voided their ballots, a level far above previous elections and indicating some did not want to vote . Raisi won 17.9 million votes overall, nearly 62% of the 28.9 million ballots cast.
As the hard-liner Raisi government continues to negotiate to salvage a tattered nuclear deal, Iran is enriching uranium at 60%, the highest level ever, just less than weapons-grade levels. The world powers that are part of this agreement have gathered for consultations in their capitals following the latest round of negotiations.
Foreign diplomats from nations involved in the talks said progress had been made Sunday in efforts to restore a landmark 2015 accord that was abandoned by the Trump administration to contain Iranian nuclear development. It was now up to the governments taking part in the negotiations to reach a political decision. Several analysts are concerned that Raisi’s election victory could complicate a possible return to the nuclear agreement.