US to press on with Vienna nuclear deal talks after Raisi win

In first reaction to Iran’s election outcome, Washington laments that Iranians were denied a ‘free and fair electoral process’

A woman holds her hand to her chest next to a pin bearing the image of Iran's newly-elected president Ebrahim Raisi during a rally celebrating his victory in Imam Hussein square in the capital Tehran on June 19, 2021. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)
A woman holds her hand to her chest next to a pin bearing the image of Iran's newly-elected president Ebrahim Raisi during a rally celebrating his victory in Imam Hussein square in the capital Tehran on June 19, 2021. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

The United States said Saturday it regretted Iranians were not able to participate in a “free and fair electoral process” in the country’s presidential election.

In the first reaction from Washington to ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi’s election win, a State Department spokesperson said “Iranians were denied their right to choose their own leaders in a free and fair electoral process.”

The United States will nonetheless continue indirect talks with Iran on the US rejoining the 2015 nuclear accord that Donald Trump abandoned, the spokesperson also said.

In Iran’s election, many political heavyweights were barred from running. Raisi is seen as close to 81-year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate political power in Iran.

Supporters of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi hold signs during a rally in Tehran, Iran, June 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Many voters chose to stay away after the field of some 600 hopefuls, including 40 women, had been winnowed down to seven candidates, all men, excluding an ex-president and a former parliament speaker.

Three of the vetted candidates dropped out two days before Friday’s vote.

On the Iran nuclear accord, the State Department spokesperson said indirect talks in Vienna between the US and Iran had made “meaningful progress” and that Washington wanted to build on this.

“We will continue discussions along with our allies and partners on a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” the spokesperson said.

File: Russia’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mikhail Ulyanov, stands in front of the Grand Hotel Vienna where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place, in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

The discussions in Vienna, brokered by European diplomats, have been locked in dispute on which sanctions imposed on Iran would be lifted.

This week, Iran announced that it had amassed 6.5 kilograms (14.3 pounds) of uranium enriched to 60% purity, and 108 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20% purity in five months. Uranium enriched to those levels can be relatively easy to further enrich into a weapons-grade level of 90% purity.

Israeli security officials believe Raisi will adopt Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s hardline views on foreign and nuclear policy, and assess that Israel must once again ready plans to potentially attack the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities, Israeli television reported Saturday.

Channel 12 said Raisi backs a return to the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, and the estimate in Israel is that an agreement with the US to restore the accord won’t be signed until August, when he takes office. In the meantime, however, Iran is expected to build up its stockpile of enriched uranium.

This satellite photo provided from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Iran began enriching uranium Friday, April 16, 2021, to its highest level ever at Natanz, edging closer to weapons-grade levels to pressure talks in Vienna aimed at restoring its nuclear deal with world powers after an attack on the site. (Planet Labs via AP)

“There will be no choice [now] but to go back and prepare attack plans for Iran’s nuclear program. This will require budgets and the reallocation of resources,” an unnamed senior Israeli source was quoted as saying.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted Saturday evening: “Iran’s new president, known as the Butcher of Tehran, is an extremist responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iranians. He is committed to the regime’s nuclear ambitions and to its campaign of global terror.”

Lapid argued that “his election should prompt renewed determination to immediately halt Iran’s nuclear program and put an end to its destructive regional ambitions.”

On Thursday Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel and the United States were working to increase the monitoring of Tehran’s nuclear program, while warning that “all options are on the table” regarding Jerusalem’s preparedness to conduct a military strike in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, meanwhile, was set to lead a senior delegation of top Israeli military officers to Washington early Sunday to meet with American officials about Iran’s nuclear program and its expansionist efforts in the region, the Israel Defense Forces said.

“The chief of staff will discuss with his counterparts current shared security challenges, including matters dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat, Iran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily in the Middle East, Hezbollah’s rearmament efforts, the consequences of the threat of precision-guided missiles and joint force build-up,” the military said.

Kohavi’s trip comes amid lingering tensions between the US and Israel over the Iran nuclear issue. US President Joe Biden’s administration intends to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, a move that Israeli officials, including Kohavi, have staunchly and publicly opposed.

On Friday Channel 13 news reported that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is hoping to use the coming weeks, ahead of the inauguration of the new Iranian president, to hold talks with Washington in order to positively influence the expected US return to the nuclear deal.

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