Western powers vowed over the weekend to press ahead with efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal, as capitals scrambled to weather the fallout from the election. Ibrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric and chief justice, as the president of Iran.
Negotiators in Vienna on Sunday postponed talks aimed at restoring the deal. In Brussels, the European Union said it was ready to work with Iran’s new government, insisting that “it is important that intensive diplomatic efforts continue to bring [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] Back on the right track.”
US officials insisted on Sunday that the election of the hard-line president did not diminish the Biden administration’s desire to revive the Iran nuclear deal.
Jake Sullivan, US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, 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, not military conflict. And so, we will negotiate in a clear and assertive way with the Iranians to see if we can reach an outcome that puts their nuclear program in the box.
He added that Iran’s supreme leader will be the one who ultimately decides whether the country returns to the nuclear deal, not the country’s president.
But Naftali Bennett, The new right-wing Prime Minister of Israel, Who took office last week, warned Sunday that this 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 the first cabinet meeting, he added: “These are killers and mass murderers. A brutal executioner regime should never be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction that can kill thousands, but millions.”
Israel has stubbornly opposed reviving the nuclear deal with Iran. It sees Iran’s hand behind its main opponents in the region – Hamas, the militant group controls the Gaza Stripand Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite faction and the largest political and military force in Lebanon.
Raisi will take office in early August after winning elections on Friday, replacing Hassan Rouhani. Iran is seeking to restore the 2015 nuclear deal and get rid of US sanctions. The elections give regime hardliners complete control of all branches of the state, casting an additional layer of uncertainty over an already complex process.
Raisi said during his campaign that his government would continue nuclear talks, and Iranian analysts say the regime needs to lift sanctions if the next president has any chance of making good on his promise to ease the republic’s economic hardships.
But a regime insider told the Financial Times that the hardliners will want to negotiate on their own terms and not turn to Tehran’s insistence that Iran’s support for militant groups across the region and expansion of its increasingly complex missile program are not up for negotiation.
Raisi is more in line with the thinking of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader who has the final say on all major foreign and security policy decisions, than Rouhani, who signed the nuclear deal in 2015 and has sought to improve relations with the West.
It is unlikely that the Raisi government will attempt to calm relations with the United States beyond resolving the nuclear crisis. Former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
Tehran has since breached the deal’s restrictions on uranium enrichment, raising concerns in European capitals about the prospects of the deal under which Iran accepted limits on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of several international sanctions.
Esfandiar Batmanglij, visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the election victory should not have an immediate impact on the Vienna talks, adding that the US return to the nuclear deal remains in Iran’s strategic interest.
But he warned that victory would change the course of diplomacy in the medium term. “The Raisi administration is unlikely to pursue such a ‘more for more’ deal, and the Raisi’s personal history and potential behavior of his administration could lead to objections to broader negotiations among many in the West, due to human rights concerns.”
Negotiators for Iran and the six remaining signatories — the European Union, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China — have been scrambling since April to figure out how to restore the agreement and pave the way for the United States to rejoin.
A US State Department spokesman said: “Our policy toward Iran is designed to advance US interests, regardless of who is in power. We would like to build on the meaningful progress made during the latest round of talks in Vienna.”
Additional reporting by Michael Bell in Brussels