Iran Has a New President. What Does That Mean for the Nuclear Deal?

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Iran Has a New President. What Does That Mean for the Nuclear Deal?

Ebrahim Raisi, a staunch regime loyalist, can be expected to follow through on talks to revive the nuclear deal but rebuff attempts to further limit Iran’s weapons programs and regional behavior.

Will Ebrahim Raisi’s election make a difference in negotiations on bringing the United States and Iran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal?

Three women in front of a mural of President-Elect Ebrahim Raisi. They hold flowers, Iranian flags, and his portrait.
Supporters of President-Elect Ebrahim Raisi celebrate his victory in Tehran. Majid Asgaripour/WANA/Reuters

Yes, in some aspects. Iran’s large conservative faction has been highly critical of President Hassan Rouhani and his nuclear diplomacy. Their critique, however, has focused less on how the agreement limits Iran’s nuclear program than on how it has failed to deliver economic dividends, such as increased international investment.

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The Joe Biden administration has stressed its intention to continue negotiations after both countries return to compliance to make the deal “longer and stronger.” No faction in the Islamic Republic has agreed to this proposal. After his election, Raisi said Iran will not take part in any negotiations over its missile program or regional policies, areas the United States reportedly wants to link to talks. The two countries could still return to the agreement, but the prospect of its renegotiation is slim.

What does Raisi’s win signal about his potential to succeed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei?

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Raisi, who heads the country’s judiciary, has long been groomed to succeed Khamenei as supreme leader. Raisi has been given a string of promotions, which now include a stage-managed presidency. Given that he has spent his entire career in the judiciary, the regime seems to have perceived that he needs some managerial experience before ascending to the highest office.

What options does Raisi have to end Iran’s economic crisis?

Conservatives have all lined up behind Khamenei’s idea of a “resistance economy,” an economic model whereby Iran lessens its dependency on oil exports and international commerce. The idea is that Iran can achieve its financial objectives by relying on internal markets and trade with neighbors such as Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as with China, which recently agreed to a major economic and security partnership with Iran. This economic vision is impractical for a country whose principal revenue-earning staple remains petroleum, but it is the conservatives’ way of protecting Iran from sanctions the United States imposed on it after President Donald Trump withdrew the country from the nuclear deal in 2018. Raisi himself is under U.S. sanctions for his role in the so-called Death Commission that oversaw the execution of political prisoners in 1988, and for his involvement in the government’s repression of the 2009 Green Movement protests.

What was the impact of the push to boycott the election?

Substantial. The Islamic Republic has long measured the legitimacy of its system by pointing to voter turnout. Whenever critics of the system challenge the electoral process whereby the Guardian Council vets candidates and rejects those deemed insufficiently loyal, the regime retorts by pointing out that a high percentage of its population votes. This claim cannot be true of this election, with final results showing a turnout of just under 49 percent, the lowest ever for presidential voting in post-revolution Iran. Thus, the regime’s choice of president came at a high cost in terms of its legitimacy.

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Middle East and North Africa

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Iran Nuclear Agreement

Elections and Voting

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