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Monthly Archives: September 2021

The Implications of a New President in Iran


The newly elected president of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, is the first hard-line conservative to take office since the administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005–13). With Raisi as president, hard-line conservatives control each branch of the Iranian government - conservatives closely aligned with supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Hard-line conservative dominance of the government will likely mean that the negotiations with the United States, focused on a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, will become much more difficult. Iranian backing of regional militias, which have been problematic to United States interests, will almost certainly continue. Negotiations regarding the Iranian ballistic missile program will almost certainly not happen. Most importantly, regional disputes will likely become more contentious under a hardliner-controlled Iran.

Ebrahim Raisi is largely considered to be a protégé of supreme leader Ali Khamenei. He has served in various high-level positions of government, including the head of the Iranian judiciary. Loyal to the supreme leader and his revolutionary ideals, Raisi is somewhat of a proxy for the aging supreme leader. His presidency will mean the rise and dominance of Iran’s military and security branches. With Raisi as president, there will be less diplomacy with the west. Conservatives such as Raisi saw President Trump's withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as a confirmation of their distrust of the west. Though president Raisi has already indicated a willingness to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, he will probably take a much more hardline approach to negotiations. While Raisi would be in favor of a return to the nuclear deal, he has indicated that Iran will not negotiate over their ballistic missile program or their support of regional militias, both of which are primary goals of the United States’ negotiations. As the United States attempt to engage in negotiations with Iran, Raisi and his team will seek to return to the original deal. Raisi has repeatedly vocalized his desire to ease the economic tensions created by U.S. sanctions, but not under any new terms, including those things which Washington sees as shortcomings of the original deal, such as Tehran’s ballistic missile program and their backing of regional militias. From Iran’s perspective, the U.S. has obligation to return to and keep its original commitments. Diplomatic relations with Iran are virtually non-existent between Iran and the United States. Recently, diplomats from multiple countries met with Iranian officials for multiple rounds of talks regarding a return to the JCPOA. The U.S., however, had no direct representation in those talks and instead relied on diplomats from other world powers as middlemen at the negotiating table. Those talks have since stalled, without any real indication of progress. Furthermore, Raisi has indicated that he would not be willing to meet with President Biden. Washington’s interactions with Iran will be dependent on Raisi’s choice of cabinet picks, especially his pick for foreign minister. The prior president and his cabinet were willing to work with the United States, but the hardliner attitude of Raisi and his cabinet will not offer the same possibilities. If the US were to return to direct negotiations with Iran, the US would likely have to settle for a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deals as it was.

Raisi is not popular amongst his own people. This already has and will continue to create issues at home for the Iranian presidency. The economic distress currently straining Iran has already fostered high levels of dissatisfaction with the government amongst Iran’s people. Raisi’s election, widely viewed as stage-managed by the conservative religious regime, has further incited public dissidence.

After many of the more popular, moderate candidates were disqualified, voters boycotted the election. Less than 49% percent of eligible voters participated in the election, making for the lowest voter turnout in post-revolution Iran history. Iranians have been and continue to grow weary of the difficult economic conditions imposed by international sanctions, which they see as a result of the regime's unwillingness to budge, even for the wellbeing of the countries people. Anti-government protests are becoming more and more frequent in Iran. The mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, a water shortage, and anger about Iran’s worsening economy have all sparked protests. Furthermore, Raisi is well known to have committed crimes against humanity. While serving on Iran’s judiciary, Raisi is said to be responsible for the execution of thousands of political prisoners. International human rights organizations and other critics of Raisi are calling for an investigation and international shunning of Raisi, which will also make negotiations with Iran more difficult as western powers will be more reluctant to negotiate with a president accused of crimes against humanity.

Iranian provocative action could potentially increase within the region. Unwilling to negotiate their support of militias, Iran-backed groups, especially in Iraq, will continue to be a threat to American interests and resources. Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have led to the escalating conflict between the US and Iran over the past few years as they have carried out attacks on American assets. The Iranian conservatives’ defiant tone towards the US indicates that they will be unlikely to stop this kind of provocative action and will likely increase efforts to push their influence across the region. Raisi has warned the west to not get involved in regional disputes, which the new administration is already familiar with. Raisi entered office during a time of high levels of tension in the region after a drone attack on an Israeli-managed oil tanker was blamed on Iran.

Because Iran’s supreme leader has the final say in governing, elections in Iran are largely considered inconsequential. Analysts perceive, however, that Khamenei sees Raisi’s presidency as an opportunity to solidify revolutionary values and policies in government before he dies. More than anything, Raisi’s presidency will establish a new tone, one that will likely be more provocative and defiant towards the United States given his status as a conservative hard-liner. Iran will increasingly turn to other powers such as China, Russia, and other regional powers to work with instead of the US and western powers, consistent with the nationalistic attitude one would expect from Iran’s conservative hardliners. The United States will see increased tensions and instability within the region as Iran remains firm in its provocative stances and policies, such as the backing of regional militias and their support of the Syrian regime. This administration will not be eager to engage with the United States in any productive way.