Iran’s new hardline president Ebrahim Raisi, who has been tied to mass executions and crackdowns of political opponents, was sworn in on Thursday as dissidents urged international leaders not to play ball with the regime.
Iranian officials declared Raisi the winner of a June election marked by low turnout and dogged by accusations of election rigging. He previously served as prosecutor general of Tehran between 1989 and 1994 as well as the first deputy head of the judiciary between 2004 and 2014.
He played a key role in a “death commission” that ordered the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
The U.S. government has noted Raisi’s involvement in what it described as a “brutal” crackdown on Iran’s Green Movement protesters following the 2009 election.
The U.S. government sanctioned many Iranian officials, including Raisi, over human rights abuses in 2019. The Treasury Department cited U.S. reports that, under Raisi, the judiciary had sanctioned the execution of child offenders and arrested lawyers for defending political prisoners and human rights defenders.
Raisi’s election raises questions about whether talks to bring both the U.S. and Iran back to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — from which the U.S. departed in 2018 — can succeed. Talks have been ongoing in Vienna to bring both sides back to the deal.
Raisi has taken a tough stance toward negotiations, demanding that sanctions be lifted before Tehran would make any accommodations. He repeated that during his inaugural address.
“The sanctions must be lifted,” Raisi said. “We will support any diplomatic plan that supports this goal.”
He also signaled that Iran seeks to expand its power as a counterbalance to foes across the region.
“Wherever there is oppression and crime in the world, in the heart of Europe, in the U.S., Africa, Yemen, Syria, Palestine … we will stand by the people,” he said, a reference to Iran-backed militia groups in Yemen and Lebanon.
However, the regime is in a weakened position due to its poor economic state, exacerbated by U.S. sanctions, and its disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also been dogged by protests, including recent demonstrations over water shortages.
Dissidents have urged the U.S. and Europe not to negotiate or conduct diplomacy with the regime.
“The policy of appeasing the ruling religious fascism in Iran is no longer constructive or effective,” National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) President-elect Maryam Rajavi said in a statement this week. “Neither this murderous regime nor maintaining relations with it enjoy any legitimacy any longer.”
The group, which calls for a democratic and secular Iran, also released a book pushing the case for the international community to hold Raisi to account for his alleged crimes.
“If the world community is serious about ending the vicious abuses of human rights in Iran, it must take effective steps to end the impunity regarding the 1988 massacre and halt the unequaled rate of executions,” it says. “If the world had not kept silent 33 years ago, regard for human rights would be very different in Iran today.
Meanwhile, in Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that the U.S. would wait to see what approach the new regime would take.
“Our message to President Raisi is the same as our message to his predecessors and that is very simple: the U.S. will defend and advance our national security interests and those of our partners,” he said. “We hope that Iran seizes the opportunity now to advance diplomatic solutions.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.