Raisi’s election won’t derail Iran nuclear talks, Western powers say

Western powers over the weekend vowed to continue their efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal as capitals scrambled to understand the implications of the election of Ibrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric and head of the judiciary, as Iranian president.

Negotiators in Vienna adjourned talks to restore the deal on Sunday. In Brussels, the EU said it was ready to work with the new Iranian government, insisting that “it is important that intensive diplomatic efforts continue. [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] back on track.

U.S. officials insisted on Sunday that the election of the hard-line president did not curtail the Biden administration’s desire to revive Iran’s nuclear pact.

Jake Sullivan, national security adviser to US President Joe Biden, told ABC News: “Our top priority right now is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We believe diplomacy is the best way to achieve this, rather than military conflict. And so, we are going to negotiate lucidly and firmly with the Iranians to see if we can come up with a result that puts their nuclear program in the box.

He added that Iran’s supreme leader would be the person who ultimately decides whether the country returns to the nuclear deal, not the country’s president.

But Naftali Bennett, Israel’s new right-wing prime minister, who took office last week, warned Sunday that it was “the last chance for world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear deal, and understand who they are dealing with.”

Speaking at his first cabinet meeting, he added: “These guys are murderers, mass murderers. A regime of brutal executioners must never be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction that will allow it to kill not thousands, but millions. “

Israel has been relentlessly opposed to resurrecting the nuclear deal with Iran. He sees Iran’s hand behind its main adversaries in the region – Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite faction and the largest political and military force in Lebanon.

Raisi will take office at the beginning of August after winning the elections on Friday, replacing Hassan Rouhani. Iran seeks to reinstate the 2015 nuclear deal and break free from US sanctions. The election gives the regime’s extremists full control over all branches of the state, throwing an additional layer of uncertainty on an already complex process.

Raisi has said during his campaign that his government will continue nuclear talks, and Iranian analysts say the regime needs the lifting of sanctions if the new president is to have a chance to deliver on his promise to ease China’s economic woes. the Republic.

But a regime insider told the FT that hard-line supporters would negotiate on their own terms and would not budge at Tehran’s insistence that Iran’s support for militant groups in the region and the expansion of its increasingly sophisticated missile program are not to be negotiated.

Raisi is much more in line with the thinking of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader who has the final say on all key foreign and security policy decisions, than Rouhani, who signed the nuclear deal in 2015 and sought to improve relations with the West.

A Raisi government is unlikely to try to cool relations with the United States beyond resolving the nuclear standoff. Former US President Donald Trump resigned from the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions against Iran.

Tehran has since violated the limits of the uranium enrichment deal, stoking concerns in European capitals about the prospects of the pact, under which Iran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for lifting numerous international sanctions.

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, visiting scholar at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the electoral victory should not have an immediate impact on the Vienna talks, adding that the return of the United States to the nuclear deal remains in the interest Iran’s strategic strategy.

But he warned that victory would change the course of diplomacy in the medium term. “A Raisi administration is unlikely to pursue such a ‘more for more’ deal, and Raisi’s personal history and the possible conduct of his administration could lead to objections to broader negotiations among many in the West, citing human rights concerns. ”

Negotiators for Iran and the six remaining signatories – the EU, Germany, France, the UK, Russia and China – have been looking since April to find a way to restore the deal and open up the way to the re-accession of the United States,

A spokesperson for the US State Department said, “Our Iranian policy is designed to advance American interests, regardless of who is in power. We would like to build on the significant progress made in the last round of talks in Vienna. “

Additional reporting by Michael Peel in Brussels

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