The White House said Monday that Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi will be held accountable for human rights violations and that President Biden has no plans to meet with him as talks on a revived nuclear deal approach the finish line.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Mr. Raisi, a longtime hard-line judicial official in the Iranian regime who is still under U.S. sanctions for his role in the 1988 mass execution of political prisoners, “will, of course, be held accountable for violations of human rights on his watch.”
“Going forward, we strongly urge the Iranian government regardless of who’s in power to release political prisoners, improve respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Iranians,” Ms. Psaki said.
At his first press conference in Tehran following his clear victory in Friday’s vote, Mr. Raisi said he wouldn’t meet with Mr. Biden but said he would back a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal repudiated by the Trump administration. Ms. Psaki noted that the U.S. and Iran don’t have diplomatic relations, and that Mr. Biden has no intention of meeting with him.
She also argued that it is Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni who calls the shots for the country in negotiations over reviving the nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers. Indirect U.S.-Iranian talks in Geneva are said to be making progress toward a deal, possibly before Mr. Raisi‘s inauguration in August.
“The president’s view, and our view, is that the decision-maker here is the supreme leader,” she said. “We are going to continue to work to move these diplomatic negotiations forward, because it’s in the interest of the United States and the interests of our national security. But I don’t have a new timeline to set for you.”
Referring to renewed calls from Tehran for the U.S. to lift sanctions, Ms. Psaki said the issue “is a subject of the [nuclear] talks,” which have completed six rounds.
“We certainly understand as we’ve seen in past rounds of these negotiations that there will be a range of rhetoric to address [Iran’s] political needs at home,” she said. “We understand that, but our focus remains on these negotiations that we look forward to continuing to participate in.”
Mr. Raisi, a 60-year-old cleric, is close to the Supreme Leader and is widely viewed as a potential successor. He was the clear favorite of Iranian hardliners who have battled with outgoing moderate President Hassan Rouhani and are deeply hostile to Israel and the U.S.
The president-elect swept nearly 62% of the 28.9 million votes in Friday’s presidential election, which saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Millions of Iranians stayed home in defiance of a vote they saw as a rigged election in which religious authorities blocked many leading moderates from even appearing on the ballot.
Mr. Raisi told a packed news conference in Tehran Monday he would seek relief from punishing U.S. sanctions that have devastated the Iranian economy. But he ruled out any limits to Iran’s missile capabilities and support for regional militias — among other issues U.S. officials say they want addressed in subsequent talks after the nuclear accord is back in place, The Associated Press reported.
“It’s non-negotiable,” Mr. Raisi said of Iran’s ballistic missile program, adding that the U.S. “is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran.”
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.