June 23, 2021

Iran’s New President

“Iran’s president-elect [Ebrahim Raisi] staked out a hard-line position Monday in his first remarks since his landslide election victory, rejecting the possibility of meeting with President Joe Biden or negotiating Tehran’s ballistic missile program and support of regional militias.” AP News

Both sides condemn Raisi’s human rights record:

“During his two years at the helm of Iran’s judiciary, Raisi has expanded the scope of the death penalty, wielding the sentence as a tool of repression against dissenting political voices and ethnic and religious minorities.  According to Amnesty International, Iran is now second only to China in absolute number of executions. In a high-profile case from last year, authorities executed Navid Afkari—a well-known Iranian wrestler and participant in the 2018 anti-government protests—for confessions obtained under sustained torture…

“But Raisi staked his claim to notoriety long before he became involved in national politics. As prosecutor of Hamedan, he led his province in the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s. Between July and December 1988, the state carried out the systematic killings of dissidents, activists, militants, mothers, and children imprisoned across Iran. Hussein-Ali Montazeri, deputy supreme leader-turned-dissident, named Raisi as one of the four officials intimately involved. Estimates vary, but reports indicate that more than 30,000 prisoners were extrajudicially killed over the course of only five months.”
Charlotte Lawson, The Dispatch

“Raisi's victory marks the first time Iran has elected a leader who is under sanctions by the United States. The US Treasury Department detailed Raisi's brutality in 2019, citing a United Nations report that found Iran's judiciary approved the execution of at least nine children in 2018 and 2019. In his previous role as a prosecutor, Raisi also ‘participated in a so-called 'death commission' that ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988,’ the Treasury Department stated…

More than half of Iran's more than 59 million voters boycotted the election after the Guardian Council, the powerful clerics who vet potential candidates, disqualified nearly all of Raisi's competitors. His victory was seen as a foregone conclusion and the 48.8% voter turnout was the lowest since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Raisi, who is a confidant of Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with close ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guard, won with 17.9 million votes -- less than 30% of the eligible electorate. Another measure of voter discontent was the record 3.7 million ballots left blank.”
David A. Andelman, CNN

Other opinions below.

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From the Left

“A Raisi government will almost certainly continue Iran’s support for Shiite militias in Iraq and Lebanon and for the Palestinian Hamas movement… that will make a new [nuclear] deal more difficult, as U.S. officials have said it should depend on Iranian agreement to follow-on talks on those issues. Iranian negotiators are also demanding that the U.S. sanctions on Mr. Raisi, imposed by the Trump administration, be lifted; complying would be an embarrassment for a Biden White House that portrays human rights as central to its foreign policy…

President Biden nevertheless has a good case for going forward. Mr. Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran failed to force the regime to accept tighter curbs on its nuclear activity. On the contrary, Tehran increased its stockpile of enriched uranium by a factor of 15, and reduced the time it would need to produce a nuclear weapon to well below the one-year standard set in the accord. While the curbs in a restored deal will expire by the end of this decade, the failure to put them back in place could leave military action as the only means of stopping Iran from producing bombs.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“Unlike Mr Rouhani, [Raisi] shows no interest in courting foreign investment; there are fewer carrots to dangle. But there is suspicion that the glacial pace until now has been partly due to hardliners slow-rolling talks before the elections to prevent reformists gaining any credit, and hope that a deal might be reached before Mr Raisi takes power in August – which would allow him to reap the benefit of loosened sanctions, while blaming his predecessor for problems… a more unified Iranian leadership may make it easier to implement a deal.”
Editorial Board, The Guardian

“Having consolidated power, hard-liners are now likely to start purging any internal opposition (as they did in the past) to their plans for the post-Khamenei era. That will not be easy. Iran has witnessed recurring social unrest in the past few years as the system has failed to reform and respond to widespread grievances. It’s not a stretch to presume many are likely to resist hard-line policies. Iran’s leaders have finite resources, so they will want to ensure they face relative calm outside their borders, to focus on a seamless transition at home. After all, self-preservation trumps all else…

“In the aftermath of Ali Khamenei’s re-election as president in 1985, Iran’s leaders agreed to a cease-fire that ended the eight-year Iran-Iraq war and started a constitutional reform process. While war exhaustion inside Iran was real, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini vowed to carry on until victory was achieved. Instead, he accepted the cease-fire in 1988. He equated the concession to a poisoned chalice, but it also allowed the government to pursue a domestic consolidation of the Islamic Republic…

A more monolithic Iranian system that seeks stability presents Washington with an opportunity.”
Ali Vaez and Dina Esfandiary, New York Times

From the Right

“Those who thought that Iranian politics would ultimately move in a more moderate direction were wrong. The regime is doubling down on religion, repression and revolution. The Biden team will make the argument that, whatever its flaws, the deal on the table in Vienna is still the best option for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, on the view that military action is unthinkable and the Trump administration’s policy of maximum sanctions didn’t stop Iran’s uranium enrichment drive…

“The argument makes a certain amount of sense — at least if the true goal of U.S. policy is to find a face-saving exit from the Middle East, akin to what the 1973 Paris Peace Accords did for the U.S. and Indochina. But if long experience in the Middle East has taught us anything, it’s that the region doesn’t easily leave the rest of the world alone. A less-restricted Iran means more regional mayhem. It means Arab states more likely to acquire nuclear capabilities of their own. It means a nervous Israel, more willing to take its chances. Whatever else happens in Vienna, Raisi’s presidency means that the 42-year crisis with Iran is about to get worse.”
Bret Stephens, New York Times

“Mr. Raisi expects the U.S. to return to the Obama deal that would help finance its conventional weapons arsenal and promotion of regional terrorism. All the U.S. gets is a delay in Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb, though it is probably also continuing to research a bomb in secret. President Biden ought to use the election of Mr. Raisi, an acolyte of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as an opening to maintain sanctions until Iran agrees to a deal that truly restricts its weapons program and terrorist support. Instead he seems bent on repeating the 2015 blunder.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“It is less than obvious what Biden’s collegial approach to international affairs has to offer over Donald Trump’s more acerbic diplomacy. For a man whom many consider to be a pariah, Trump ended up achieving a lot…  

“For all the conflict-resolution attempted by earnest, well-meaning presidents such as Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, they left the Middle East in a worse state than when they took office. Trump, by contrast, was denounced as a warmonger — and yet became the first president in modern times not to be sucked into a foreign war. Moreover, he achieved the diplomatic coup of persuading four Arab states to recognize Israel, as well as dialing down tensions between North Korea and the west…

“With Iran, Trump managed to strike — ordering the assassination of Qasem Soleimani — without triggering an all-out war. He then took Iran’s halfhearted retaliations on the chin, thus depriving Iran of a malign asset while allowing both sides to back down without wider conflict. Afterwards, Iranian attacks on western ships in the Gulf declined. Trump was lucky, no doubt, but he was original in his approach to foreign affairs — and bold.”
Editorial Board, Spectator World

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