Iran’s Raisi says won’t meet Biden or negotiate on missiles, support for proxies

In first press conference since win, president-elect says the Islamic Republic will continue to be ‘a defender of the oppressed people including the Palestinians’

Iran’s president-elect said Monday he wouldn’t meet with US President Joe Biden, nor negotiate over Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its support of regional terror groups, sticking to a hardline position following his landslide victory in last week’s election.

Judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi described himself as a “defender of human rights” when asked about his involvement in the 1988 mass execution of thousands of people.

“All that I have done through my years of service has always been towards defending human rights,” said the Iranian president-elect, accusing the West of violating human rights.

Raisi made the comments in his first press conference in Tehran.

The president-elect also said his administration would not allow negotiations to go on unless they were deemed beneficial to Iran, in talks with world powers aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal.

“Any negotiations that guarantee national interests will certainly be supported, but… we will not allow negotiations to be for negotiation’s sake,” he said, adding that his election on Friday followed a “massive” voter turnout.

“The US is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran,” he said.

According to the Iran-based Fars News Agency, Raisi said in response to a question that “from the perspective of Iran, the Palestinians are the owners of Palestine.” He added that “before the Zionist region feels threats from us, they should feel deterred by the Palestinian people and its resistance groups.”

According to the Tehran Times, Raisi suggested that a “referendum” is the best solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Iran has always been a defender of the oppressed people, including the Palestinians, and this has been stated in the constitution and being insisted on by Imam Khomeini and Leader of the Islamic Revolution.” Raisi was quoted as saying by the publication.

The victory of Raisi, a protégé of Iran’s supreme leader who was sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in the mass executions, came amid the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Millions of Iranians stayed home in defiance of a vote they saw as skewed in Raisi’s favor, after candidates who could have put up a fight were barred from running.

Raisi sat in front of a sea of microphones, most from Iran and countries home to militias supported by Tehran. He looked nervous at the beginning of his comments but slowly became more at ease over the hour-long news conference.

Asked about Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support of regional militias, Raisi described the issues as “non-negotiable.”

Tehran’s fleet of attack aircraft dates largely back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, forcing Iran to instead invest in missiles as a hedge against its regional Arab neighbors, who have purchased billions of dollars in American military hardware over the years. Iran also relies on militias like Yemen’s Houthis and Lebanon’s Hezbollah to counterbalance against enemies like Saudi Arabia and Israel, respectively.

On a possible meeting with Biden, Raisi simply answered: “No.” His moderate competitor in the election, Abdolnasser Hemmati, had suggested during campaigning that he’d be potentially willing to meet Biden.

The White House did not immediately respond to Raisi’s statements Monday. Raisi will become the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the US government even before entering office, in part over his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

Of those who did vote, 3.7 million people either accidentally or intentionally voided their ballots, far beyond the amount seen in previous elections and suggesting some wanted none of the four candidates.

In official results, Raisi won 17.9 million votes overall, nearly 62% of the total 28.9 million cast.

Raisi’s election puts hardliners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program, at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at 60%, its highest levels ever, though still short of weapons-grade levels.

Representatives of the world powers party to the deal returned to their capitals for consultations following the latest round of negotiations on Sunday.

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