Raisi inauguration: Iran’s new president vows to raise US sanctions

Ebrahim Raisi was sworn in on Tuesday as president of Iran, a country whose hopes of shaking off a dire economic crisis depends on the revival of a nuclear deal with world powers.

“After the people have been elected, I will appoint the wise, tireless, experienced and popular Hojatoleslam Ebrahim Raisi as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” wrote Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a decree read by his chief of staff.

Raisi replaces moderate President Hassan Rohani, whose milestone was the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers. Right from the start, Raisi will have to start negotiations to revive the nuclear deal, from which the US unilaterally withdrew with massive sanctions. In his inaugural address, Raisi said his administration would try to lift “suppressive” US sanctions but “not tie the nation’s standard of living to the will of foreigners.”

The 60-year-old also faces warnings from the United States, Britain and Israel to Iran over a deadly tanker attack last week for which Tehran denies responsibility. Raisi won a presidential election in June that left more than half of the electorate after many political heavyweights were banned from running. The former head of justice has been criticized by the West for his human rights record.

Traffic restrictions were in place on the streets around the site of the inauguration, with domestic flights to and from the capital being banned for two hours, media reports said. The ceremony on Tuesday marked the official inauguration of Raisi. On Thursday he will be sworn in in front of parliament when he is supposed to present his government proposal.

Business top challenge

Raisi’s presidency will cement power in the hands of the Conservatives following their victory in the 2020 general election, marked by the disqualification of thousands of reformist or moderate candidates. Last month he called on parliament to “work together” to bolster Iranian hopes for the future.

“I am very hopeful for the future of the country and confident that it is possible to overcome difficulties and borders,” he said at the time. Iran’s economic problems, exacerbated by US sanctions, will be the biggest challenge facing the new president, said Clement Therme, a researcher at the European University Institute in Italy.

“Its main goal will be to improve the economic situation by strengthening the economic ties of the Islamic Republic with neighboring countries” and others like Russia and China, said Therme.

Under the 2015 agreement, Iran accepted restrictions on its nuclear capabilities in return for easing sanctions. But then US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal three years later and tightened sanctions again, causing Tehran to withdraw from most of its nuclear commitments.

Trump’s successor Joe Biden has signaled his willingness to return to the deal and has started indirect negotiations with Iran alongside formal talks with the remaining parties to the deal – the UK, China, France, Germany and Russia.

US sanctions have choked Iran and its vital oil exports, and the economy contracted more than 6% in 2018 and 2019.

In the winter of 2017-2018 and again in 2019, street protests sparked by the economic crisis rocked the country. And last month, protesters took to the streets to vent their anger in the oil-rich Khuzestan province, which has been hit by the drought. Tensions on the international front have escalated after the United States and Great Britain, together with Israel, blamed Tehran for a tanker attack off Oman last Thursday that killed a British security guard and a Romanian crew member.

The United States promised an “appropriate response” while Iran warned on Monday that it would respond to any “adventurism”. The economic malaise was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which officially cost more than 90,000 lives and also put many Iranians in their pockets. In his last cabinet meeting on Sunday, Rouhani defended his track record but apologized for the “hardship” the Iranians had to endure.

After his election, Raisi made it clear that his main foreign policy would be to improve relations with the regional countries. In mid-July, Rouhani said he hoped his successor could reach an agreement to lift US sanctions and close nuclear talks. But Khamenei, whose word is final on political matters, has warned against trusting the West.

Raisi has already said that he will not hold talks just for the sake of negotiations. His government will only support talks that “guarantee national interests,” said the new president. From April to June, six nuclear talks between Iran and the world powers took place in Vienna. The final round ended on June 20th and no resumption date has been set.

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