Iran's New President Rules Out Missile, Militia Talks in Blow to Nuclear Deal Hopes

Iran's president-elect said on Monday that he would not meet U.S. President Joe Biden, nor negotiate over his country's ballistic missile programme and support of regional militias.

Judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, 60, who won a landslide victory in the country's general election on Saturday, is a hardline figure already sanctioned by the United States for his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. When he takes office in August, he will become the first Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government.

"The U.S. is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran," Raisi told reporters at a press conference in Tehran on Monday.

When asked about Tehran's ballistic missile program and its support of regional militias, Raisi said those issues were "non-negotiable."

On meeting Biden, Raisi simply said: "No."

Abdolnasser Hemmati, the moderate who ran against him in the election, had suggested during campaigning that he'd be potentially willing to meet the U.S. President.

Iran is indirectly negotiating with the U.S. in Vienna, Austria, in a bid to salvage the 2015 nuclear agreement. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), agreed between Iran and world powers, saw Tehran place limits on its uranium enrichment capabilities in exchange for the lifting of western sanctions. But former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in May 2018 and re-imposed crippling sanctions on Tehran. Although Iran continued to comply with the deal for a short time, since 2019, it has been enriching uranium beyond the limits of the nuclear deal. In April, Iran said it would enrich uranium up to 60 percent purity, taking the country closer to the 90 percent amount that is considered weapons-grade.

Responding to a question at the press conference, Raisi accused the U.S. and the European Union of violating the deal.

"My serious proposal to the United States government is for them to return [to the agreement] in an expedited manner .. in doing so they will prove their sincerity," Raisi said. "The people of Iran do not have good memories of the JCPOA," he added.

"The Americans trampled on the JCPOA and the Europeans failed to live up to their commitment. I reiterate to the US that you were committed to lifting the sanctions -- come back and live up to your commitments," he said in his opening statement.

Raisi, a hardline-conservative judge, won the election with a historically low turnout of 48.8 percent. This compares to a turnout of more than 70 percent in the 2017 election. After all 28.9 million ballots counted over the weekend, Raisi was elected with a tally of 17.9 million, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said on state TV. The low turnout seemed to be fueled by voter apathy and Iranian opposition groups calling for a boycott of the election, which they saw as an engineered victory for Raisi.

Many Iranians saw Raisi as being hand-picked or coronated by the Persian Gulf nation's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A panel under the supreme leader's watch disqualified several of Raisi's moderate challengers. Raisi was appointed by Khamenei to the senior post of judiciary chief in 2019.

Ebrahim Raisi, after election
Iran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi waves to the media after casting his vote at a polling station on June 18, 2021, on the day of the Islamic republic's presidential election. Raisi said Monday he wouldn't meet U.S. President Joe Biden, despite the suggestion by one of his election rivals that they would meet the American premier. Majid Saeedi