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Raisi Takes the Reins in Tehran

Although deferential to the supreme leader, the new president has the chance to shape Iran’s approach to the West.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Iranian president-elect holds first post-election press conference.
Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi holds his first post-election press conference in Tehran on June 21. ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Iran inaugurates Ebrahim Raisi as president, the Taliban claim responsibility for bombing the Afghan defense minister’s home, and Tanzanian opposition leader Freeman Mbowe faces terrorism charges in court.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Iran inaugurates Ebrahim Raisi as president, the Taliban claim responsibility for bombing the Afghan defense minister’s home, and Tanzanian opposition leader Freeman Mbowe faces terrorism charges in court.

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

Iran Prepares Raisi Inauguration

Iran inaugurates a new president in Tehran today, a critical moment for the Islamic Republic as Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative former judicial chief, replaces the more moderate Hassan Rouhani for a four-year term.

Raisi’s ascension was cemented in a rubber-stamp election in June that saw his rivals removed from the contest before voters went to the polls. Now in control of all Iranian government levers, the country’s hard-line grouping will have to govern without the convenient scapegoat Rouhani provided for many years.

A new team? Much is made of who wields true power in Iran, and although Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds ultimate sway, Raisi will have a chance to set the tone for dealings with the West with his choice of cabinet and negotiating team at the Vienna nuclear talks.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, the eloquent, U.S.-educated Iranian foreign minister, is all but certain to leave his post. Potential replacements include Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the current head of Raisi’s foreign-policy transition team, and Ali Bagheri Kani, another high-ranking foreign-policy official but one who does not speak English.

As Foreign Policy’s Michael Hirsh writes, Tehran is likely to become more belligerent with a new man in charge. “The 60-year-old Raisi is seen as the optimal enforcer who will seek to crush dissent at home with more aggression over the border,” Hirsh writes.

Hands full. Aside from nuclear talks and potential rapprochement with adversaries in the region, Raisi is likely to have his hands full at home—with only a hard-line minority to back him up. “Raisi’s support stems from the systems core constituency, which in every election we have seen is not more than 25 to 30 percent of the Iranian population at best,” Ali Vaez, an Iran expert at the International Crisis Group, told Foreign Policy. “So the majority of the population is either disillusioned with the system or, at this point, completely alienated, and we have huge parts of the society that almost have nothing to lose.”

The confluence of crises facing the country may make Rouhani happy to be heading out the door. “Iran has had economic troubles in the past, has had external tensions in the past, but this situation of economic issues, environmental degradation, the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest, and political disillusionment is truly unprecedented,” Vaez said.

What We’re Following Today

Tanzanias opposition in court. Tanzanian opposition leader Freeman Mbowe appears in court today to face terrorism charges after his arrest in July for allegedly breaking COVID-19 restrictions. Mbowe’s party, Chadema, has accused Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s government of continuing the repressive regime of her predecessor, John Magufuli, following Mbowe’s detention. The case has caught the attention of U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, who told the Tanzanian government the United States was concerned about the case during a meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Wednesday.

Taliban claim Kabul bombing. The Taliban on Wednesday took responsibility for a car bombing in the Afghan capital that targeted the home of acting Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi. Mohammadi was unhurt in the attack, but in the fighting that ensued, eight civilians were killed and 20 were wounded. “Taliban leaders continue to say one thing, namely that they support a negotiated solution of conflict,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Wednesday. “Those words ring hollow when they continue these types of actions.”

Tigray’s aid bottleneck. U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power called for an end to “dehumanizing rhetoric” in a meeting with Ethiopian authorities in Addis Ababa while urging the Tigray People’s Liberation Front to “immediately” withdraw from two regions on Tigray’s border. On Wednesday, Power said only 10 percent of humanitarian aid was reaching Tigray and urged the Ethiopian government to remove any bureaucratic hurdles preventing access. Ethiopia has defended its decision to suspend two aid organizations, Doctors Without Borders and the Norwegian Refugee Council, from working in Tigray and blamed them for spreading “misinformation” online.

Keep an Eye On

Booster shots. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for a moratorium on giving third doses of COVID-19 vaccines to prioritize those around the world who have yet to receive any dose at all. “I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it,” Tedros added at a Wednesday press conference. Israel has already begun administering third shots to residents age 60 and older while the United States signed a deal with Pfizer to buy another 200 million doses to handle booster shots and child vaccination.

Nicaragua’s election. Nicaraguan police arrested another opposition candidate in the country’s upcoming presidential elections, the eighth to be detained so far. Berenice Quezada, who is now under house arrest, had only announced her candidacy for vice president last Wednesday—alongside presidential candidate Oscar Sobalvarro, a former head of the right-wing Contras guerrilla group. The arrest comes after the United States and European Union imposed sanctions on Monday ahead of the Nov. 7 polls, with Nicaraguan Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo among those targeted.

U.S. weapons exports. The United States is planning to alter its arms sales policy to give a bigger voice to human rights concerns, Reuters reported on Wednesday. The move, which is still in the planning stages, is unlikely to disrupt the sale of major defense systems but may change the U.S. approach to selling smaller arms to countries with a history of using them on their own population. On Friday, U.S. State Department officials are expected to brief congressional aides on the policy before a likely unveiling in September.

Odds and Ends

A German retiree was fined nearly $300,000 by local authorities on Tuesday following the discovery of a World War II-era tank in the defendant’s basement along with other items from the period, including a flak cannon and multiple machine guns. The Panther tank was removed from the individual’s property in 2015, a job that took 20 soldiers almost nine hours to complete.

The unnamed 84-year-old defendant might have been able to hold on to the tank and the rest of the collection—which must now be donated to a museum within two years, according to Tuesday’s ruling—had the retiree kept it a better secret. “He was chugging around in that thing during the snow catastrophe in 1978,” Heikendorf, Germany, Mayor Alexander Orth told reporters.

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

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