Following a performative election on June 18, Iran will have a new president: the hard-line Ebrahim Raisi. Raisi’s rise will likely mean a different nuclear negotiating team after August in Vienna, where Iran and six world powers, including the United States, are working to revive the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Despite the new leader’s rhetorical support for nuclear diplomacy, the Raisi presidency offers Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei the option to increase his demands and further extort the West. Washington should not let Tehran use the time between the new president’s inauguration as a mechanism to wrest more appealing terms.
Raisi has a long history of service to Iran’s brutal legal system. In 1988, Raisi and several other clerics oversaw mass executions of political prisoners in one of the worst acts of violence in the country’s 42-year history. Raisi also supported Tehran’s crackdown on protesters during the 2009 Green Movement. In 2019, he was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for his promotion to the position of chief justice.
Raisi’s stance on nuclear diplomacy notwithstanding, Khamenei has the final say on all of Iran’s foreign and security policy matters. This point was underscored recently by U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who acknowledged the regime’s actual leader “was the same person before this election as he is after the election.”
It would behoove Washington, then, not to rush to resurrect the nuclear deal before Raisi’s team enters office, since Iranian negotiators will almost certainly try to use the inauguration to their advantage. Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is no stranger to the good cop-bad cop routine, and he successfully began employing this stratagem against America and Europe more than a decade ago. Paradoxically, Raisi’s reputation as someone who will inevitably toughen demands on Washington means Iran’s greatest extortion could happen well before August. What’s more, the outgoing negotiating team is already briefing Raisi on the status of the talks.
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