Iran's President-elect: Tehran's Ballistic Missile Program 'Nonnegotiable'
By Ken Bredemeier June 21, 2021
Iran's new hard-line President-elect, Ebrahim Raisi, said Monday he would not negotiate over limiting Tehran's ballistic missile program or its support for regional militia proxy forces.
In addition, Raisi told reporters in Tehran that he would not meet with U.S. President Joe Biden as the United States attempts to rejoin the 2015 international pact to restrain Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Later, the White House dismissed any concern about not having a Raisi-Biden meeting.
"We don't currently have diplomatic relations with Iran or any plans to meet with the leader at the leader level, so it's unclear that anything has actually changed on that front," Biden press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
Psaki said Biden's view remains that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is the country's ultimate ruler and will make any decisions on revising and extending the nuclear pact.
At his first news conference following his victory in last week's presidential election, Raisi called himself a "defender of human rights" when he was asked about his involvement in the 1988 mass execution of about 5,000 people.
U.S. sanctions linked to the killings from three decades ago remain in place against him, even as he is set to assume the Iranian presidency in about six weeks.
An ultraconservative Shiite cleric, Raisi served on what became known as "death commissions" that ordered executions after sham trials of political prisoners, militants and others.
"I am proud of being a defender of human rights and of people's security and comfort as a prosecutor wherever I was," he said. "All actions I carried out during my office were always in the direction of defending human rights," he added. "Today in the presidential post, I feel obliged to defend human rights."
Psaki said that Raisi "will first be held accountable for ... violations of human rights on his watch. Going forward, we strongly urge the Iranian government, regardless of who's in power, to release political prisoners, improve respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Iranians."
The administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump said the nuclear deal was not tough enough and withdrew the U.S. from the agreement three years ago while also renewing crippling economic sanctions against Iran.
Raisi, a protĂ©gĂ© of Khamenei, took a defiant stance against Washington, saying, "The U.S. is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran."
As the U.S. and five other international powers negotiate new terms of the nuclear pact with Tehran, Raisi said any discussions about its ballistic missile program and its support of regional militias were "nonnegotiable."
Tehran's fleet of military aircraft dates largely to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. This has forced Iran to buy missiles to defend itself against its regional Arab foes, which have over decades bought billions of dollars in American arms. Iran also supports militias such as Yemen's Houthis and Lebanon's Hezbollah to act against enemies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, respectively.
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told ABC News' This Week show on Sunday that it is a "paramount priority" for the United States to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Sullivan downplayed Raisi's election as a controlling force in the country, because of Khamenei's ultimate authority.
With the U.S. out of the international pact, Iran has been exceeding the agreement's mandates, enriching uranium at 60%, its highest levels ever, although that is still short of weapons-grade levels.
After negotiators met Sunday in Vienna, representatives of the world powers returned to their capitals for consultations.
Raisi called sanctions relief "central to our foreign policy" and demanded that the U.S. "return and implement your commitments" in the deal.
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