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Iran’s hardline Ebrahim Raisi sworn in as president amid tensions

Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi gestures after casting his vote during presidential elections at a polling station in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2021.

Majid Asgaripour | WANA News Agency | Reuters

Iranian cleric Ebrahim Raisi has been sworn in as the Islamic Republic’s new president against the backdrop of challenging negotiations with the West on the revival of its nuclear deal, domestic unrest, a ramp-up in local nuclear development and accusations of sabotage in Gulf waters. 

Earlier this week, Raisi, who has long been vocally anti-Western and is under U.S. sanctions for human rights abuses, was given the final approval for the presidency by Iran’s all-powerful supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He was elected in June, in a vote many Iranians and Western advocacy groups say was rigged.   

The approval from Khamenei followed fresh maritime conflicts in the Gulf waters between Iran and its Arab neighbors.  

A Japanese-owned and Israeli-operated commercial tanker was hit by multiple drone strikes in international waters off the Omani coast over the weekend. The US, U.K. , and Israel have all blamed Iran. Two people aboard the ship, a Romanian national and a British national, were killed.  

Tehran denies involvement, as it does with a separate seizure this week of a tanker off the coat of the United Arab Emirates. Iranian officials denied any role in the seizure, although the vessel was ordered to sail to Iran. 

How far will escalation go?

Ramped-up nuclear activity

This as Tehran increases its uranium stockpiling and enrichment in gradual breaches of the 2015 accord, which it says is in response to U.S. sanctions. Iran announced in late May that it was enriching uranium at 60%, a dramatic departure from the 3.67% level permitted under the JCPOA.

Following the news, International Atomic Energy Agency Director Rafael Grossi sounded the alarm, saying: “A country enriching at 60% is a very serious thing — only countries making bombs are reaching this level.”

“Sixty percent is almost weapons grade, commercial enrichment is 2, 3 [percent],” Grossi said. Iranian officials contend that the enrichment is their country’s sovereign right, and that their nuclear activity remains for peaceful purposes and can be walked back if the U.S. lifts its sanctions. 

The Biden administration has voiced its support for reviving the JCPOA as a pillar of its foreign policy, but is rejecting lifting sanctions as long as Iran does not dial back that nuclear activity.

Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington D.C., argues that Raisi and any attempts at making a deal with his government is bad news. 

“No amount of spin or massage can cast the man hand-picked by the supreme leader to be the next president as a moderate,” Goldberg, who served on former President Donald Trump’s National Security Council, wrote in an op-ed in the National Review on Tuesday.

“The selection of Raisi is only one of many signals the supreme leader has sent Biden this year, making clear that Khamenei fully intends to pocket any sanctions relief he receives from Washington to fuel the Islamic Republic’s war on the United States and its allies.”

Raisi will also be facing fraught tensions at home, where since mid-July, Iranians in several provinces have been protesting deteriorating living conditions. Since then, rights groups have identified several people killed by state security forces.

“The Iranian political leaders’ primary response to widespread demands for basic rights has been unchecked repression,” wrote Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Israel-Iran ‘shadow war’ 

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Iran’s hardline Ebrahim Raisi sworn in as president amid tensions

2021-08-05 09:38:52

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