Iran Strikes Hard-Line Pose 08/02 06:12
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Once a protg of Iran's supreme leader
is sworn in as president this week, hard-liners will control all parts of the
Islamic Republic's civilian government.
Given the brinkmanship over its accelerating nuclear program and the West
alleging that Tehran launched a fatal drone attack targeting an oil tanker
linked to an Israeli billionaire last week, one might think that had already
Iran's inauguration of President-elect Ebrahim Raisi on Thursday represents
the last stop in a slow slide from the hopes that the 2015 nuclear deal would
open the Islamic Republic to the West.
Instead, the country that Raisi takes over is now enriching small quantities
of uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, interferes with
international inspections of its nuclear sites and allegedly plotted to kidnap
an exiled critic from the streets of Brooklyn. And Iran's own version of a
"maximum pressure" campaign may grow more intense in the short term.
Relations between Iran and the U.S. always remain anchored to the weight of
their bitter recent history. For America, it began with the 1979 U.S. Embassy
takeover and subsequent hostage crisis that transfixed a nation and doomed the
presidency of Jimmy Carter. In Iran, the original sin remains the 1953
CIA-backed coup that toppled the country's prime minister and cemented the rule
of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi -- lighting the long fuse for the Islamic
There have been, however, brief moments when that tether eased.
Then-President George H.W. Bush's outreach to Tehran -- with his famous phrase
"goodwill begets goodwill" in his 1989 inauguration -- largely went unanswered.
Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami tried to open a door to the U.S.,
only to find it quickly shut after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and as Bush's
son put Tehran in his "Axis of Evil."
The nuclear deal sought to end another escalatory cycle between Iran and the
Under the accord, Tehran agreed to drastically limit its nuclear program in
exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions crushing its long-ailing
economy. That cut off Iran from having enough nuclear material to make an
atomic weapon if to chose to pursue one. Experts from the International Atomic
Energy Agency would verify Tehran's compliance under its most-stringent
The deal came under the administration of now-outgoing President Hassan
Rouhani, a relatively moderate cleric within the theocracy. It showed that
Iran's civilian government, though operating on a narrow bandwidth under
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, can affect how the rest of the world
interacts with Iran.
"The deal can and should herald a new era and lead to positive outcomes
regarding the establishment of sustainable peace and stability in the region,"
Rouhani proudly told the U.N. General Assembly in 2015. "From our point of
view, the agreed-upon deal is not the final objective but a development which
can and should be the basis of further achievements to come."
That wasn't to be the case. President Donald Trump in May 2018 unilaterally
withdrew from the deal, citing the fact it dealt only with the nuclear program
and not Iran's ballistic missile program nor its support of regional militias.
And by last week, Khamenei lectured Rouhani's outgoing administration on the
deal's failings, saying: "In this government, it was shown that trust in the
West does not work."
Iran began dialing up pressure in the region since the summer of 2019, when
ships came under mysterious attacks that the U.S. Navy blamed on mines planted
by Tehran. Iran also shot down an American drone and responded to the U.S.
drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad by launching a
ballistic missile strike targeting U.S. troops in Iraq.
After a lull amid the coronavirus pandemic, Iran now appears to be going
up-tempo yet again to challenge President Joe Biden, who has said he's willing
to re-enter the atomic accord. Talks in Vienna, however, broke down in the
waning days of the Rouhani administration.
"We could have implemented the (deal) and lifted the sanctions, but we were
stopped somewhere else," the outgoing Iranian president cryptically said Sunday.
During his campaign, Raisi said he wanted to re-enter the deal with his
incoming "strong" government where the presidency, the judiciary and the
parliament all are held by hard-liners like himself. What that would look like
remains unclear, but Iranian hard-line newspapers such as Vatanemrooz printed a
black-and-white funeral-style image of Rouhani on Monday, offering this take on
his presidency: "We neither forgive nor forget."
The push for a confrontational approach to the West is not likely to make
Raisi blink. As a prosecutor early in his career, Raisi served on a so-called
"death" panel deciding who would live or be executed in a purge that activists
say saw as many as 5,000 people killed in 1988. He has loyally followed
Khamenei and was rewarded at one point with the task of running a religious
foundation in Iran with assets believed to be in the tens of billions of
dollars. The Astan Quds Razavi Foundation owns almost half the land in Mashhad,
Iran's second-largest city.
The country's other branches of government already have signaled they will
follow along if Raisi, once in office, decides to up the ante.
Iran's judiciary, which Raisi led in recent years, remains internationally
criticized for its closed-door trials and executions. The parliament demands
Iran's nuclear program move closer to weapons-grade levels while pursuing
further censorship of the internet.
Whatever path he pursues on foreign policy, there is a danger lurking at
home for Raisi. With all the levers of government at his fingertips, he will
inherit the myriad of problems facing Iran that have sparked nationwide
protests over recent years.
His response to that may prove just as important to how he handles the West.