Hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi used his inaugural speech as Iran's president on Thursday to insist that the Iranian nuclear program was peaceful, to call for international sanctions against Iran to be lifted and to vow that his country would stand against oppression everywhere, from Europe to Palestine.
LISTEN: How Israel’s Olympic hero challenged a nation’s identity
Calling for the cessation of the crippling international sanctions against Iran, enacted in response to its nuclear program, the new president insisted that Iran's religious leaders have forbidden the development of nuclear weapons. "This weapon has no place in our defense doctrine," Raisi told the assembled lawmakers and foreign dignitaries.
Shifting sharply between fiery rhetoric and conciliatory gestures, Raisi vowed that Iran would continue to "resist the expansionist policies by the arrogant, oppressive powers" and would stand against oppression everywhere, "in Europe, America, Yemen, Africa, Syria, or in Palestine." But the new president also insisted that Iran was committed to dialogue with the world and extended its hand in peace to neighboring countries.
Raisi, who is under U.S. sanctions over allegations of human rights abuses when he was a judge, has promised to take steps to lift tough U.S. sanctions that have cut Iran's oil exports and have shut it out of the international banking system.
Iran has been negotiating with six major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal abandoned three years ago by then U.S. President Donald Trump, who said it was too soft on Tehran.
Under the deal, Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions, but Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy. Tehran has since breached limits imposed on its nuclear activities under the agreement.
- Gantz says Israel is prepared to strike Iran, 'hope we won't get dragged into it'
- Iran's president-elect Ebrahim Raisi 'an extremist' with blood on his hands, Israel says
- Iran's Raisi: Our ballistic missile program is non-negotiable
According to Iranian media, Enrique Mora, the European Union's chief coordinator for the nuclear talks, is in Tehran to attend Raisi's inauguration.
Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was critical of the decision by the European Union to send a representative, arguing: “You cannot speak of human rights and at the same time give honor to a murderer, a hangman, who assassinated hundreds of regime opponents.”
Like Iran's supreme leader, Raisi has endorsed the nuclear talks, but the mid-ranking Shi'ite cleric is widely expected to adopt a tougher line in talks that have stalled.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last say on all state matters including nuclear policy.
Iranian and Western officials have said significant gaps remain to be resolved in the nuclear talks and have yet to announce when the talks will resume.
With economic misery palpable at home and signs of growing anger among Iranians over economic hardships, breaking free of the U.S. sanctions will be Raisi's top economic goal, political analysts say.
Tensions have simmered between Iran and the West after a suspected drone attack last week on an Israeli-managed tanker off the Omani coast that killed two crew members.
The United States, Israel and Britain blamed the incident on Iran. Tehran has denied responsibility, and warned it would respond promptly to any threat to its security.
Iran has also denied involvement in a hijacking incident in the Arabian Sea on Tuesday. Maritime security sources said they suspected Iranian-backed forces were behind the attack on a Panama-flagged tanker and Washington said it believed Iranians hijacked the vessel but was not in a position to confirm.
Appointed by Khamenei to run the judiciary in 2019, Raisi was placed under U.S. sanctions a few months later for the role he allegedly played in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. Iran has never acknowledged the killings.
Since his election, Raisi has said the U.S. sanctions were imposed on him for doing his job as a judge. Dissidents fear his presidency could usher in more repression in Iran.