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Iran’s president: No talks with US on militias, ballistic missiles

By June 22, 2021News, Print

As published in Al-Monitor

President-elect Ebrahim Raisi called on the United States to rejoin the nuclear deal.

Iran’s president-elect ruled out future negotiations with the United States over his government’s conventional ballistic missile program and support for Shiite militias across the Middle East.

Ebrahim Raisi, who was elected to the presidency in Friday’s national elections, called the ballistic missile program and militia support “non-negotiable” and urged the United States to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement.

“We emphasize that the US government should be sincere toward its commitments while noting that the regional and missile issues are non-negotiable,” Raisi said in his first press conference since winning the election.

He also said he would not meet with President Joe Biden, contrasting with his political rival, Abdolnasser Hemmati, who said earlier this month he’d be open to meeting Biden if elected.

The stance by the new hard-line president does not mark a change in Iran’s stated policy, but it may put a damper on the hopes of Biden administration officials who have said current negotiations with Iranian officials in Vienna must be followed by talks over Tehran’s regional influence campaign.

The Trump administration abandoned the 2015 international nuclear deal with Tehran in part because it did little to limit the Islamic Republic’s work to expand its conventional missile strike range and influence in regional states via proxy militias.

Tehran has leaned on drones as well as ballistic and cruise missiles in recent years as its primary deterrent in the region, as its air force has decayed under international sanctions and nuclear weapons were ruled out by the 2015 agreement.

Iran has since transferred ballistic missile and drone technology to Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who in turn continue to fire such projectiles into Saudi Arabia in retaliation for Riyadh’s involvement in Yemen’s civil war.

A proliferation of such weapons technology to Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria has been a primary focus of Israel’s covert airstrike campaign in the region.

Israel has launched hundreds of nighttime airstrikes against suspected Iranian targets in Syria in recent years and is suspected of having carried out a handful of strikes in Iraq. The Israeli military’s chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, arrived in Washington on Monday to continue coordinating with the Biden administration on the Iran negotiations and regional security.

Iran in turn has demonstrated the power and precision of its ballistic missile arsenal. More than a dozen ballistic warheads struck two air bases in Iraq housing US forces in early 2019 in retaliation for the US military assassinating Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in a Baghdad drone strike. The retaliation left more than 100 US military personnel, who were forced to take shelter, with brain injuries.

Raisi, an ultraconservative cleric and former head of Iran’s judiciary, is set to become the Iranian president to be under US sanctions while in office. The long-time protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen as one of his potential successors.

Raisi won in a landslide last week amid national elections that saw the lowest voter turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic. The race was marred by widespread perceptions that Iran’s Guardian Council had interfered in the candidate pool to clear the path for Raisi.

“Ebrahim Raisi’s staged election as president of Iran is a setback for US and Iran relations and likely will complicate the effort to get both countries back into the requirements of the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal),” said Mick Mulroy, the Pentagon’s former top policy official for the Middle East, in comments provided to Al-Monitor.

“This will hurt the people of Iran the most,” said Mulroy, a retired CIA station chief and current ABC News analyst.

Iran’s outgoing Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday teased the possibility of a final agreement on JCPOA talks before Raisi takes office.

Zarif told Al-Jazeera that the text of the agreement “is getting cleaner and cleaner. The brackets are being removed.”

Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov said Friday, however, that “some difficult and time-consuming topics remain unresolved” amid the Vienna talks, a tone echoed by the French and US governments.

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