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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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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