Iran’s president-elect Ebrahim Raisi, the chief of country’s judiciary is a self-proclaimed ayatollah and Husseini sayyid. With his election in a voter-less flawed election make the Iranian young population feel confused thinking Raisi may not be the man who would give concessions necessary to agree a new nuclear deal. When Iran is optimistically looking for extorting billions of dollars from its counterpart in the West on the table of nuclear deal negotiations, the country is experiencing a disastrous pandemic experience, sky-high unemployment and climbing inflation amid US sanctions. For these factors, this election was vital for the country and its ultra-orthodox religious leaders. But again, people are feeling pessimistic of seeing any success in the nuclear deal, particularly with a figure like Ebrahim Raisi in the presidency.
If former US President Donald Trump hoped to moderate Iran’s stance by withdrawing from the nuclear deal, the election of a hard-liner who is personally sanctioned by the US — because of his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988 — was surely not the intention.
Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator, and an adviser to private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), commenting on Iran’s election wrote in his article in the Arab News: “The election, lowest turnout since the 1979 revolution, coupled with the accidental or intentional voiding of some 3.7 million ballots, was illustrative of a remarkable lack of public confidence. Immediately, both Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and state television sought to downplay this, blaming interference by Iran’s regional and Western rivals. The Islamic Republic has long cited high voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, so the en masse belligerence of Iranian voters will have raised eyebrows. Even though Raisi’s electoral win could have been regarded by many as a foregone conclusion, it is now a reality and Iran’s regional rivals and the international community will eventually have to engage with the man Khamenei himself is understood to have hand-picked.
“The key soundbite of the veteran cleric’s first week following the election was that he would not meet US President Joe Biden. Entering office at a crucial period, amid the ongoing diplomatic efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, this announcement will have undoubtedly concerned many in Washington who are hoping for rapprochement. Despite the progress achieved in the talks so far, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned that a deal would be “very hard” should the talks drag on.
Raisi’s victory represents the return of conservative control over all three branches of government. His administration, which will take office on Aug. 3, is therefore expected to adopt a much more hard-line approach to both domestic and foreign affairs. This has clear ramifications for Iran’s approach to the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal. Though the election of one from among the revolutionary vanguard might appear to jeopardize hopes of a deal, public anger if the talks collapsed would be high, particularly as inflation was about 40 percent last year. The regime will have to seek some sort of modus operandi with the West”.
Experts say, after an election that showed significant youth disaffection with Iran’s stunted post-revolutionary power structure, the regime must seek sanctions relief if it is to have any hope of revitalizing the economy.
But the main hurdle here is Iran’s ability of earning confidence of the US as well as its Arab neighbors. Here, Ebrahim Raisi has stated that Iran’s continued support of regional militia activities and its support towards Hezbollah, Houthis and Hamas are “non-negotiable”. Meaning, with such a hardline policy of the president-elect of Iran and its unwillingness of stepping back from patronizing militia and terrorist activities, Joe Biden administration’s willingness of relieving Iran from the punitive sanctions and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal would only contribute in further emboldening Iran in the region. Relieving Iran of sanctions would strengthen its capabilities of patronizing and funding terrorism – in the region and beyond. It may be mentioned here that, Iranian regime has been making every effort in exporting its revolution in the Middle Eastern and Arab nations. It has already succeeded in fully jeopardizing the domestic situation in Lebanon with the help of Hezbollah, while it is also advancing with a similar agenda in Yemen and Gaza.
But some analysts are seeing hope in Ebrahim Raisi’s presidency. For example, Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, suggests that the election of a senior cleric could be advantageous. He said: “Unlike outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, they see Raisi, who is close to the supreme leader and the security and intelligence apparatus, as being able to deliver on regional compromises. This changed view will enable both sides to build on the current dialogue underway in Baghdad”.
But despite such optimism, it may be mentioned here that, the regime in Tehran is famously unpredictable, meaning that gauging the policies of an incoming president is a very imperfect science. More importantly, though the president is considered the country’s chief executive, the real decision-making power in practice lies with the supreme leader, who holds the ultimate authority in Iran. The president chairs the Supreme National Security Council, the key policymaking forum, but decisions on strategic issues are often made in a consensual manner and require Khamenei’s approval. In this case, Iran’s approach to the JCPOA will fully depend on Khamenei himself. He is actually the center of power. Under such realities, Biden administration should not expect much of any magical achievement in their nuclear negotiations with Iran.