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Iran: New President Says Ballistic Program Non-Negotiable, But Restoring Ties With Riyadh Possible

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Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi staked out a hard-line position on Monday in his first remarks since his election victory, rejecting the possibility of meeting with US President Joe Biden.

And while saying his foreign policy priority would be improving ties with Iran’s Gulf neighbors, the hard-line cleric also said   he is not willing to negotiate over Tehran’s ballistic missiles or support for regional militia. 

Gulf states have said it would be dangerous to separate the nuclear pact from Tehran’s missile program and “destabilizing” behavior in the Middle East.

The comments by 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.

“There are no obstacles from Iran’s side to re-opening embassies… there are no obstacles to ties with Saudi Arabia,” he said. 

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 described himself as a “defender of human rights” after being asked directly about his involvement in the 1988 mass executions of some 5,000 people.

Raisi was part of a so-called “death panel” that sentenced political prisoners to death at the end of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.

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 nonnegotiable,” Raisi said of Iran’s ballistic missile program, adding that the US “is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran.”

Raisi said Iran’s foreign policy would not be limited to the nuclear deal, adding that “all US sanctions must be lifted and verified by Tehran.”

Negotiations have been under way in Vienna since April to work out how Iran and the US can both return to compliance with the nuclear pact, which Washington abandoned in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump before reimposing sanctions on Iran.

Iran has subsequently breached the deal’s limits on enrichment of uranium, designed to minimize the risk of it developing nuclear weapons potential.

Iranian and Western officials alike say Raisi’s rise is unlikely to alter Iran’s negotiating stance in talks to revive the nuclear deal as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on all major policy.

Raisi also alleged that the US had violated the deal and the EU had failed to fulfill its commitments.

The victory of Raisi comes amid 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 favor.

Of those who did vote, 3.7 million people either accidentally or intentionally voided their ballots, far beyond the amount seen in previous elections and suggesting some wanted none of the four candidates. In official results, Raisi won 17.9 million votes overall, nearly 62 percent of the total 28.9 million cast.

Raisi’s election puts hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program, at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at 60 percent its highest levels ever, though still short of weapons-grade levels. 

Representatives of the world powers party to the deal returned to their capitals for consultations following the latest round of negotiations on Sunday.

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Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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