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In Raisi, Iran Opts for Foreign-Policy Continuity

In his first public comments since becoming Iran’s president-elect, Ebrahim Raisi laid out his goals beyond the country’s borders.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi speaks during his first press conference in Tehran.
Ebrahim Raisi speaks during his first press conference as Iran's president-elect in Tehran on June 21. Atta Kenare/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi makes his first public comments since winning the election, Western powers impose coordinated sanctions on Belarus, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken returns to Europe.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi makes his first public comments since winning the election, Western powers impose coordinated sanctions on Belarus, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken returns to Europe.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Raisi Sets His Foreign-Policy Agenda

Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi outlined his foreign-policy goals on Monday in his first press conference since winning Friday’s presidential election. Raisi said his first priority was to improve ties with Iran’s Gulf Arab neighbors and endorsed talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.

Raisi won last week’s election with nearly 62 percent of the vote after having the field effectively cleared before any ballots were cast. Worryingly for Iran’s hierarchy, the election saw record low turnout—a sign of apathy but also a reminder of the potency of the COVID-19 epidemic still raging in the country.

In Monday’s news conference, Raisi insisted that Iran’s strategy of support for regional militias and the development of its missile program were “not negotiable,” laying out Iran’s position should the United States aim for agreements beyond the nuclear deal.

Vienna delays. Those wider issues appear to be holding up the deal’s revival. The New York Times reports that two hurdles remain before the United States returns to the 2015 agreement. Washington wants a commitment from Iran to continue talking—this time about regional concerns. Iran, for its part, wants a U.S. commitment that it won’t just walk away from the deal if and when a new president takes office.

Israel’s options. Israel—which has had a change of leadership if not a change in policy—has voiced its concerns about relieving international pressure on Tehran. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday urged world powers to “come to their senses” and reject the 2015 deal, while Defense Minister Benny Gantz maintained that “all options to attack Iran are on the table.” Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi will have a chance to make U.S. officials aware of Israel’s position in person when he visits Washington this week.

Raisi, up close. Although the Biden administration has made clear that it views Raisi as a less important figure than Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the White House would do well to understand the next Iranian president. In a recent profile of Raisi in Foreign Policy, Sajjad Safaei describes a “man driven first and foremost by a profound devotion to the acquisition of power rather a fanatical adherence to ideology.”


What We’re Following Today 

Blinken returns to Europe. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken begins a weeklong trip to Europe today, making his first stop in Berlin, where he is due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. His travel includes calls on Paris—the first visit to France by a senior Biden administration official—and Rome, where he will co-chair an anti-Islamic State coalition meeting before participating in a G-20 foreign ministers’ meeting in the southern Italian cities of Bari and Matera.

Belarus sanctions. Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States imposed coordinated sanctions on Belarusian individuals and state-owned companies in the latest response to last month’s forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk to arrest a dissident on board. The EU will consider going further on Thursday when it mulls economic sanctions on Belarus’s finance, oil, potash, and tobacco industries. EU moves could include the imposition of “Venezuela-style” curbs on trading Belarusian securities, greatly limiting foreign investment.

Global vaccine production. The World Health Organization said on Monday that it was in the early stages of establishing a “technology transfer hub” in South Africa to speed the production of COVID-19 vaccines across the African continent. WHO said the new facility would work as a training center where “interested manufacturers from low- and middle-income countries can receive training and any necessary licenses to the technology,” while WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said it was possible for South Africa to produce vaccines “within nine to 12 months.” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa hailed the news as “historic” but said he would still push for a waiver on intellectual property rights related to COVID-19 vaccines.


Keep an Eye On

Turkey’s democracy crackdown. Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has been ordered to face trial for its alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union, and the United States. The HDP denies formal ties to the PKK and considers the charges a political tool to remove the party from the national legislative scene.

The HDP is currently the third-largest party in the Turkish parliament and won 6 million votes in the last parliamentary election. When the indictment was first filed against the HDP in March, the U.S. State Department said any attempt to ban the party would “further undermine” democracy in Turkey and would “violate the rights of millions of voters.”

Jordan tries alleged “coup” plotters. Jordan’s former royal court chief and a relative of King Abdullah II were put on trial Monday on charges of sedition and incitement two months after an alleged coup plot in Jordan made headlines. Both the defendants, Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, pleaded not guilty. Prince Hamzah, the half-brother of the king who was at the center of the alleged plot, is not facing charges. Although he was accused of colluding with foreign entities to dethrone the king, unrest within the Hashemite family has since been papered over.

The trial has been shrouded in secrecy, but the case in itself—as well as the drama that preceded it—has shown cracks in the ranks of the Hashemite dynasty. “As far as I know, there has not been a case this big in the history of Jordan,” Ala Khasawneh, a Jordanian defense lawyer, told The Associated Press.


Odds and Ends

British-made television shows such as The Crown and The Great British Bake Off may become the latest victims of Brexit, according to an internal EU document seen by the Guardian that describes the programming as a threat to Europe’s “cultural diversity.”

Under an EU directive, the majority of airtime must be given over to European content on terrestrial television and must make up at least 30 percent of content on streaming services. The document warns against the continuing definition of British shows as European, leading to a “disproportionate” amount of British content on European platforms.

Any change to the current order is likely to trouble audiences in Europe, where British shows are nearly as widespread as those from the United States. On the continent, French broadcasters spend the most on British content—shelling out roughly $140 million in the 2019/2020 reporting period.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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