Sunday, July 25, 2021

No nuclear negotiations ‘for negotiation’s sake’, says Iran president-elect

Ebrahim Raisi says he will not meet President Joe Biden in the event that talks lead to the US lifting sanctions on Iran.

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Iran’s president-elect Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday that he will not allow nuclear negotiations for the sake of negotiations, in his first news conference since his election last week.

Raisi, 60, won Friday’s election in which more than half the voters stayed away after many political heavyweights had been barred from running and as an economic crisis driven by US sanctions has battered the country.

Raisi, an ultraconservative cleric who heads Iran’s judiciary, will replace moderate President Hassan Rouhani – whose landmark achievement was a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers – in August.

“Any negotiations that guarantee national interests will certainly be supported, but… we will not allow negotiations to be for negotiation’s sake,” Raisi said, adding that his election followed a “massive” voter turnout.

The 2015 deal saw Iran accept limits on its nuclear capabilities in return for an easing of sanctions, but former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew three years later and ramped up sanctions, prompting the Islamic republic to pull back from its nuclear commitments.

Trump’s successor Joe Biden has signalled his readiness to return to the deal and state parties – also including China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany – have lately been negotiating its revival in Vienna.

Raisi, who is subject to US sanctions imposed over the executions of political prisoners in 1988, has in the past denied he played a role in the killings.

At the press conference on Monday, Raisi said he has “always” defended human rights.

“All that I have done through my years of service has always been towards defending human rights,” said the Iranian president-elect, while accusing the west of violating human rights.

Raisi also said he has no intentions of meeting Biden.

“No,” was his flat response to a question from an American media outlet on whether he would meet his future counterpart in the event the talks lead to the US lifting sanctions on Iran, and to try and “fix” the issues between the two arch enemies.

‘No obstacles’ on Saudi

Raisi also said his administration would be open to restoring ties with Iran’s regional foe Saudi Arabia.

“There are no obstacles from Iran’s side to re-establishing embassies… there are no obstacles to ties with Saudi Arabia,” he said, as discussions are under way to try and bring closer the two Middle East rival powers that have held no diplomatic ties since 2016.

Ties between the two countries were cut that year after Iranian protestors attacked Saudi diplomatic missions following the kingdom’s execution of a revered Shiite cleric.

They are reported to have been engaged in talks hosted by Baghdad since April to improve relations.

Raisi, whose black turban signifies direct descent from Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, is seen as close to the 81-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate political power in Iran.

His victory had been widely anticipated after the Guardian Council, made up of 12 clerics and jurists, had approved just seven candidates, all men, out of a field of almost 600 hopefuls.

Three of those vetted candidates dropped out two days before the vote.

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