President-elect Raisi: Iran's priority is improving ties with Gulf Arab neighbours

President-elect Raisi: Iran's priority is improving ties with Gulf Arab neighbours
By Reuters
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DUBAI -President-elect Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday Iran's foreign policy priority would be improving ties with Gulf Arab neighbours, while calling on regional rival Saudi Arabia to halt its intervention in Yemen immediately.

Raisi, 60, a hardliner and strident critic of the West, will take over from pragmatist Hassan Rouhani in August as Iran seeks to salvage the tattered nuclear deal and be rid of punishing U.S. sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy.

Raisi said Iranian foreign policy would not be limited to the nuclear deal. "Iran wants interaction with the world...My government's priority will be improving ties with our neighbours in the region," he told his first news conference in Tehran, televised by state media, since winning Friday's election.

But he called on Saudi Arabia "and its allies should immediately stop their interference in Yemen". A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen's war in 2015 after Iran-backed Houthi forces drove its government out of the capital Sanaa. The conflict has been largely stalemated for several years.

Iranian and Western officials alike say Raisi's rise is unlikely to alter Iran's negotiating stance in talks to revive the nuclear deal - Iran's hardline Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei already has final say on all major policy.

Raisi further said the United States had violated the deal and the European Union had failed to fulfil its commitments.

"I urge the United States to return to its commitment to the deal...All sanctions imposed on Iran must be lifted and verified by Tehran," he said. Asked if he would meet U.S. President Joe Biden if those sanctions were lifted, Raisi simply answered "No."

Negotiations have been ongoing in Vienna since April to work out how Iran and the United States can both return to compliance with the nuclear pact, which Washington abandoned in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump and then reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Iran has subsequently breached the deal's limits on enrichment of uranium, designed to minimise the risk of it developing nuclear weapons potential. Tehran has long denied having any such ambition.

Raisi said Iran's ballistic missile programme was non-negotiable, despite demands by the West and Gulf Arab countries that it be included in the ongoing talks to revive the nuclear agreement.

"Regional and missile issues are not negotiable. They (United States) did not comply with the previous agreement, how do they want to enter into new discussions?" he said.

Raisi is under U.S. sanctions over a past which includes what the United States and human rights groups say was his involvement in the extrajudicial killing of thousands of political prisoners in the Islamic Republic in 1988.

In his remarks on Monday, Raisi said that he should be rewarded for defending his people's rights and security.

He said that, as a jurist, he had "always defended human rights", adding that U.S. sanctions against him for alleged human rights abuses had been imposed on him for doing his job as a judge. He had not previously addressed the allegations.

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