Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi has a history of human rights abuses and appears poised to steer the country towards an increasingly combative foreign policy while sowing fear among large sections of its own population. Now let’s see how he can implement this before jumping to irrevocable conclusions or actions on our part.
More than half of Iran’s 59 million voters boycotted the election after the Council of Guardians, the powerful clerics who control potential candidates, disqualified almost all of Raisi’s competitors. His victory was taken for granted and the turnout of 48.8% was the lowest since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Raisi, who is a confidant of Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and closely linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, 17.9 million votes, less than 30% of the eligible electorate. Another measure of voter dissatisfaction was the record 3.7 million ballots left blank.
Raisi’s victory marks the first time Iran has elected a leader under US sanctions. The US Treasury Department detailed Raisi’s brutality in 2019, citing a United Nations report that Iranian justice approved the execution of at least nine children in 2018 and 2019. In his previous role as prosecutor, Raisi served as a prosecutor. also “participated in a so-called ‘death commission’ which ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988,” the Treasury Department said.
It is still unclear how the new Iranian president will cope with a convergence of crises. Annual inflation rates are nearly 50% and unemployment has been over 10% for the past two decades. The Covid-19 pandemic has also devastated Iran and the official death toll of 82,000 is likely an undercount. Khamenei also refused to accept any help from the United States at the start of the pandemic, calling American leaders “charlatans and liars.” Meanwhile, the government has been powerless to stop thousands of medics from fleeing the country over the past year.
After his inauguration in August, Raisi will have to negotiate with the United States and persuade the Biden administration to lift the crushing sanctions on Iran if he hopes to stabilize and rebuild the fractured economy. But Raisi is also reportedly aiming to succeed Khamenei, meaning the president-elect will have to appease the Supreme Leader and the more militant elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), while maintaining, at the very least, acquiescence. peace of the Iranian people.
The overwhelming, and not unwarranted, fear from the time the voters list was announced last month was that Raisi, who was opposed to engaging with the West and who had previously called for economic autonomy, would bogged down and demanded a stop or a substantial detour in the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear deal underway in Vienna, Austria. These efforts have focused on a revival of the agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a 2015 agreement restricting Iran’s nuclear program, from which former President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.
In the days leading up to Friday’s presidential election, however, Raisi appeared to make an effort to reverse his more extreme positions. In the last nationally televised debate, he said the nuclear deal was “an agreement and a commitment that governments must live up to.” Yet, he added, his support was based on nine “conditions” that Khamenei set out in 2015. Most hard-line supporters have charted similar paths, conditioning a new nuclear deal on the abolition of all sanctions that strangle the Iranian economy. The Biden administration has already lifted sanctions against three former Iranian government officials and two companies involved in its oil industry as a good-faith gesture to move talks forward.
Negotiators in Vienna have six more weeks to work with the government in power in Tehran to reach a deal before Raisi is sworn in. Nonetheless, it is likely that Raisi will be happy to claim the fruits of these efforts, especially if sanctions can be lifted and the economy begins to recover with the end of the debilitating embargo on Iranian oil.
Raisi didn’t come up with many other proposals. When it comes to regional conflicts, he’s a security hawk who is unlikely to let go of support for the Houthi rebels who are fighting Saudi proxies in Yemen’s ongoing civil war. The same goes for Iran’s support for the Shiite militias that continue to operate in Iraq. Both are high priorities for the IRGC and Khamenei.
A new government in Israel now presents its own set of challenges, with two staunch hardliners straddling most of the issues that divide Iran and Israel. New Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the Knesset: “Resuming a nuclear deal with Iran is a mistake that will legitimize one of the most violent regimes in the world.
This leaves a critical dilemma for President Joe Biden. How should he deal with the new Iranian ruler? Staying the course is the best answer. Do not recognize any real change in the direction of Iran unless you introduce yourself directly. Continue to hold the nation and its leaders accountable for gross human rights violations. As a price for future agreements and sanctions relief, demand not only a return to the nuclear deal, but also the release from prison of Americans detained in Iran.
At the same time, Biden should take Raisi at his word when it comes to agreeing to the nuclear deal, and the US president should rally the support of all signatories to the original pact, including Russia and China, who have both sought to build their own close ties with the Iranian regime.
Biden, of course, must also seek to prevent the new Israeli government from taking unilateral action against Iran. Above all, the United States needs to make it clear that if Iran is to be taken seriously and resume its role in the world, as so clearly desired by so many of its inhabitants, it must stop acting as a pariah nation.