In his first remarks after his landslide election victory, Iran's president-elect set out a hard-line stance, rejecting the notion of meeting with President Joe Biden or negotiating Tehran's ballistic missile program or support for regional militias.
Ebrahim Raisi's remarks provided a harsh preview of how Iran will cope with the rest of the world over the next four years as it enters a new stage in talks to restore the now-defunct 2015 nuclear deal with Western powers.
At the news conference in Tehran, the judiciary leader was addressed on live television for the first time about his role in the 1988 mass execution of political detainees at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Raisi did not respond directly to that sad episode in Iranian history, but he appeared confident and defiant in his description of himself as a "defender of human rights."
Raisi fielded questions from a sea of microphones, largely from Iranian media and countries with Tehran-backed militias, on topics ranging from the nuclear talks to relations with regional competitor Saudi Arabia. He appeared nervous at the start of the hour-long interview, but as he returned to broad campaign themes of improving Iran's economic self-sufficiency and battling terrorism, he became more at ease.
In Friday's presidential election, the 60-year-old cleric, a protégé of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, collected over 62 percent of the 28.9 million ballots cast, the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic's history. Millions of Iranians stayed at home in protest over a vote they perceived as skewed toward Raisi after a tribunal led by Khamenei excluded key reformist candidates and allies.
Concerning the talks over Iran’s nuclear deal, Raisi promised to salvage the accord to secure relief from U.S. 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.”
Tehran’s fleet of attack aircraft largely dates back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, forcing Iran to instead invest in missiles as a hedge against its regional Arab neighbors, which have bought billions of dollars in American military hardware over the years. Those missiles, with a self-imposed range limit of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), can reach across the Mideast and U.S. military bases in the region.