Iran’s election result: A nuclear deal is more necessary than ever

, by Teresa Trallori

Iran's election result: A nuclear deal is more necessary than ever
Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s new president. Hossein Razaqnejad, Wikimedia Commons

On June 18, Iranians headed to the polls to elect the 8th President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, founded in 1979 after a Revolution that overthrew the Shah’s regime. The election has drawn much criticism in the country and abroad: while there hasn’t been evidence of polls manipulations, the outcome seemed already decided before the voting. Indeed, the Guardian Council, one of the most powerful unelected bodies in the Republic, disqualified prominent figures of the Reformist and Moderate factions, leaving only low-profile candidates to run against the Supreme Leader protege, the hardliner cleric and Chief of Justice Ebrahim Raisi.

The outcome of this was a landslide victory for Raisi, but also what appears to be the lowest turnout in a presidential election since the Republic’s foundation. To provide some context, in 2017 around 70% of Iranians headed to the polls, around the same numbers as four years earlier. This time, it is estimated that not more than 50% of Iranians have cast their ballot, a figure that experts have deemed indicative of the population’s disillusionment and opposition to the current state of Iranian politics. In addition to the engineered election and the low turnout, the most significant shift in Iranian politics was the election of a firm hardliner, causing apprehension among many foreign powers.

Raisi’s problematic human rights record

Throughout his career, Ebrahim Raisi has shown a total adherence to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and he is even rumoured to be a potential successor for the country’s highest authority. While Raisi’s priorities will likely be the ones promoting stability and economic growth, his political record is extremely problematic. Indeed, human rights organisations immediately raised the alarm over Raisi’s alleged role in the 1988 extrajudicial killings of thousands of political prisoners, a dark page in Iranian history still not formally recognised by the Iranian Government.

At the time, Raisi was Tehran’s Prosecutor General and, according to Amnesty International, he was part of the “death commission” that condemned dissidents, committing actions that amounted to crimes against humanity. Human Rights Watch also joined the criticism of Raisi, pointing out as a prominent member of the Iranian Judiciary, he participated in “long-established patterns of rights violations in Iran, including [...] in grossly unfair trials, and lack of respect for due process rights”. Finally, the new Iranian President is currently blacklisted by the United States, through an order that cited his participation in the brutal crackdown of civil protests that erupted in Iran in 2009 and 2019.

This record of human rights violations may represent a dilemma for European powers, which in the last few decades have adopted a less confrontational stance against Iran in comparison to the US, especially during the Trump presidency. It may seem like after Raisi’s election there will be no more space for dialogue with Iran since its government is likely to be even more suspicious about any future Western engagement. Yet, the European Union as a whole and its member states should not give up their diplomatic efforts towards Iran, and especially regarding the JCPOA.

What is the JCPOA?

Implemented in 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) imposed restrictions over Iran’s nuclear programme while lifting a series of international and American sanctions over the country. While one may have the impression that it was a US-Iran deal, the agreement was also signed by China, Russia, the UK, France, and Germany, with the participation of the EU and the UN. The deal represented a huge stepping stone against nuclear proliferation, but it was also highly criticised, with opponents of the Obama administration arguing that it was too lenient towards Iran’s missile and regional politics.

Ex-US President Donald Trump had been one of the critics of the agreement, and in May 2018, his administration unilaterally pulled out from the deal. Instead, it implemented a policy of “maximum pressure,” imposing extremely strong economic and diplomatic sanctions to weaken the Iranian regime. However, according to multiple analysts, the strategy was a failure: the sanctions did not impact Iran’s political institutions, and the regime continued its proxy activities in the Middle East. Instead, economic pressure did hurt common Iranians and strengthened the hardliners which had always criticised the decision of dealing with the West. Finally, in an attempt to push the US and the other signatories to relieve the sanctions regime, Iran itself breached the deal by advancing its nuclear programme.

The need for diplomatic engagement

In light of these developments and of Raisi’s elections, the necessity of a return to the nuclear deal and of further engagement with Iran is more necessary than ever. With the hardliners in power, it will be more difficult to engage in a dialogue regarding other issues related to Iran, like its ballistic missile programme, which the president defined as “non-negotiable”. Yet, despite these limits and an inevitable change of tone in respect to the Ruhani administration, the new President has declared himself to be favourable to the negotiations. Moreover, some analysts maintain that while the hardliners would not have accepted a new deal struck by reformists, now that they can take the credit for the economic relief that would follow, they will be more open to an agreement.

For these reasons, European leaders must adopt a strategic logic, knowing that a non-proliferation agreement would be extremely important, especially in the context of a more right-wing government, in which issues like human rights or Iran’s regional proxies will be out of the table. The next five weeks will be of crucial importance since before Raisi formally takes office, around mid-August, negotiators will be able to still cooperate with functionaries and diplomats of the old administration. Moreover, European diplomats in Vienna must put all their efforts towards reaching a conclusion before Iran’s nuclear developments reach a point from which it will be too difficult to return to compliance, exposing the Middle East, and the world, to the risk of an expanded nuclear programme.

Finally, in the long term, the EU should devise a coherent strategy on how to deal with what it promises to be a more repressive and nationalist government. It will be necessary to devise a strategy that would allow Western power to support Iranian victims of repression without impacting the livelihoods of millions of people, and European powers may also contribute to a new trade deal, and to diplomatic efforts towards a regional dialogue between Iran and Saudi Arabia, since the US position will likely remain more rigid. In conclusion, despite Raisi’s election, European powers still can and should strive to maintain cooperative diplomatic relations with Iran, since the Trump administration demonstrated that aggressive politics will not yield any consistent result.

Your comments


Warning, your message will only be displayed after it has been checked and approved.

Who are you?

To show your avatar with your message, register it first on (free et painless) and don’t forget to indicate your Email addresse here.

Enter your comment here

This form accepts SPIP shortcuts {{bold}} {italic} -*list [text->url] <quote> <code> and HTML code <q> <del> <ins>. To create paragraphs, just leave empty lines.

Follow the comments: RSS 2.0 | Atom