Geopolitics

Raisi's Iran: Tougher Talk With West, Warmer Ties With Russia

​The arch-conservative Ibrahim Raisi's election to the Iranian presidency is pushing its regime closer to Russia and farther from the West — and leaving a big question mark on relations with China.

Enters Seyyed Ibrahim Raisi
Enters Seyyed Ibrahim Raisi
Ahmad Ra'fat

-OpEd-

LONDON — Reactions have varied in the two weeks since the election of Seyyed Ibrahim Raisi as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. For starters, no Western government (save Austria) has congratulated Raisi, and the various statements by spokes people have mixed some surface criticism with observations on Raisi's presence in the "death committees' that signed prisoner death warrants after the 1979 revolution, as well as his record in the judiciary over the past four decades.

The German government spokesman stated that his country knew of Raisi's role in executions, refusing at a press conference to answer more questions on the matter. The government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy, Bärbel Kofler, has voiced concern that Raisi had given "no explanation" on his ties to rights violations in Iran. The French foreign ministry expressed hope Raisi's government would respect the 2015 nuclear pact with Western powers and reiterated the French government's "persistent" concerns over the state of human rights in Iran.

A senior Italian Foreign Ministry official told Kayhan London that Raisi's election would undoubtedly create problems in EU relations with Iran's regime, and it was difficult to foresee senior officials shaking hands with someone with Raisi's murky record. Public opinion would not accept it, the Italian diplomat added, foreseeing a possible repeat of Europe's difficult relations with another hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Western powers are not primarily worried now with Raisi's presence in the "death committees." Rather they are concerned with the fate of talks in Vienna on reviving the 2015 nuclear pact, and will keep an eye on the appointment of Iran's new negotiating team, whose members, all approved by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, will indicate "which way the wind is blowing," said the official.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has likewise observed that it was not the head of the Iranian government, but Iran's supreme leader, who took the final decisions there.

In the sixth round of talks, Iran's negotiators sought assurances that whatever administration follows the current presidency of Joe Biden would not abandon any new pact, as the Trump administration did in 2018. This alone could impede a new agreement. The Biden administration cannot in legal terms provide this guarantee, and the U.S. Congress is unlikely to allow it.

Still, a U.S. diplomat in Rome told Kayhan London that the Iranian request seemed reasonable, as such decisions were a presidential prerogative and the next president could, as Donald Trump did, decide to ditch the pact. Iran, he said, must in any case accept the risks of a pact if it wants to see sanctions lifted and its economy reopen.

Confrontations with the United States are its oxygen.

The Islamic Republic's acceptance of conditions set by the Biden administration should not be seen as a change of policy toward the United States, nor is the regime likely to change its military and regional policies, as the West expects. The Islamic Republic's confrontation with the United States and its regional interventions are its oxygen. It does not want to normalize ties with the West, but also prefers that tensions are kept under control. Khamenei has repeated that reconciliation with the United States was akin to setting aside the "revolution's ideals." These ideals, which Raisi stressed while campaigning, include running a missile program and regional interventionism.

Two days after Iran's sham elections, Raisi said he wanted better relations with other countries in the region, though he stressed that détente with the Saudi kingdom depended on it ending its "military intervention" in Yemen. Tehran itself has been backing the Yemeni Houthis, who use drones and missiles from Iran to target Saudi installations. Saudi Arabia is particularly concerned with Iran's nuclear program. Its foreign minister has said that regardless of who was president, the kingdom would react to Iranian actions on the ground.

Israel, meanwhile, believes Raisi's election means an acceleration of the nuclear program, while the Lebanese analyst Saad Kaywan has no doubts Raisi's arrival means more Iranian support for the Hezbollah, and an exacerbation of Lebanon's political and economic paralysis.

In contrast, those who could not wait to congratulate Raisi were Syria's President Bashar al-Asad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, followed by the heads of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. Many inside and outside Iran believe the Raisi government will move more fully into Russia's orbit than its predecessors. The head of the Russian foreign ministry's Asia department has voiced confidence collaboration with Tehran would expand.

China is also pleased with Raisi's election. President Xi Jinping congratulated him 48 hours after election results were formally announced. But a journalist from the official Xinhua agency expressed China's concerns over the future of the 25-year bilateral pact and the conservative Ali Larijani's earlier elimination from the presidential race. Supreme Leader Khamenei had appointed him to oversee the pact's implementation. The journalist observed this might indicate Russia's rising influence, at China's expense.

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Geopolitics

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