In Today's Issue: Iran Elects Hard-Line President, Raising Doubts About Nuclear Talks

The following story appeared in the [post_published] issue of The Daily Juice. The text is from the 9th-10th grade version. To access the other grade levels, interactive vocabulary (words in bold), quiz questions, and more, sign up for The Juice.

Iran elected a new president who is a fierce critic of the West on Friday, and world powers reacted by adjourning negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Ebrahim Raisi, the hard-line head of the country’s judiciary, won in a landslide. He had previously been sanctioned by the US over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

Turnout in the election was the lowest since the Islamic Republic of Iran was founded in 1979. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei disqualified Raisi’s strongest competitors, prompting an election boycott.

Iran’s president is the second-most powerful post in the country’s government. The supreme leader is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, names the leaders of the judiciary, and has the power to declare war and peace. Khamenei, a staunch foe of the US, has held power since 1989.  

But the election of a hard-liner as president still raised questions about the future of talks to revive a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. The US abandoned the deal in 2018 under former President Trump. Iran has violated the agreement since then. 

Talks were ongoing in Vienna about how to get both Iran and the US to comply with the deal. Negotiators decided to take a break after the election. Both Iran and the US say a new deal is up to the other side. Most experts believe Raisi’s election won’t affect the talks because Khamenei has the ultimate say on major policies. 

What is Iran?

Formerly known as Persia, Iran is a Middle Eastern country whose strategic location at the crossroads of Central Asia, South Asia, and various Arab states has made it important to the region. It also borders the oil-rich Persian Gulf, which is to Iran’s south, and elevates the nation to energy “superpower" status. Iran’s capital is Tehran and its population is more than 83 million, making it the second-most populous country in the Middle East.

Map is part of Public Domain courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

What is Iran’s history, in brief?

Iran has a deep and rich history. It is home to some of the world’s oldest civilizations. It was the center of the Old Persian Empire, also known as the Achaemenid Empire, which was founded by Cyrus the Great and existed for several centuries after its inception in the 7th Century BCE.


When was modern Iran founded?

The Republic of Iran was founded in 1979 after the Iranian Revolution, when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s monarchy government was overthrown and replaced by the rule of Ayatollah Ruhllah Khomeini, who died 10 years later. The republic has been overseen by Islamic clerics and jurists, and its current Supreme Leader is Sayyid Ali Khamenei, who ascended to the post after Khomeini’s death. Ebrahim Raisi (or Sayyid Ebrahim Raisol-Sadati, which is his full name) was elected president of the Islamic republic on Friday.


How long has Iran been a nuclear threat?

In 2002, an Iranian opposition group revealed that Iran was developing nuclear facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) immediately noted concerns that they might be used for military purposes. Iran admitted in 2003 that it was enriching uranium at two nuclear facilities, claiming that it was to fuel nuclear power plants and not for weapons. 


Suspicious of Iran’s true motives, countries across the globe forced Iran to agree to suspend uranium enrichment-related activities, but it continued them in secret. The United Nations Security Council responded with sanctions on the Iranian economy. Iran generally ignored the sanctions and continued missile development and nuclear activities.


But wasn’t there a nuclear agreement with Iran? 

While Iran kept enriching uranium and getting closer to having the capability to build a nuclear bomb, the sanctions were badly hurting its economy. So, it negotiated with the so-called P5+1, the five permanent members of the Security Council (the US, UK, France, China, and Russia), plus Germany. The talks finally led to a deal in 2015. 


Wasn’t a nuclear deal a good thing? 

Supporters hailed the nuclear agreement as a strong step toward peace that postponed Iran’s acquisition of nukes by at least a decade. Critics complained that Iran could cheat, that the deal didn’t ban missile testing, and that the hundreds of billions that would flow into Iran upon the lifting of sanctions would make Iran’s anti-American leaders stronger and allow them to cause more problems in the region.


However, the IAEA has found Iran not in compliance with its obligations, and the US intelligence community recently found Iran wasn’t working to produce a nuclear device.


So, what happened next? 

Iran has continued developing and testing missiles capable of delivering nuclear bombs. And critics were right that more money has allowed Iran to continue financing terrorist groups and supporting regimes that abuse human rights.


The Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear agreement, which Trump had repeatedly called the worst deal ever negotiated. He also reimposed sanctions on Iran, despite the objections of American allies. The Iranian economy has suffered, and the Iranian government has lashed out in a couple of violent incidents.


Now, Iran may be planning to enrich uranium to 60%, bringing the country closer to having the material needed to produce nuclear weapons. Iran is also threatening to end United Nations inspections of its nuclear facilities.


What is President Biden’s policy involving Iran and nuclear weapons?

Biden has hoped to renegotiate a deal similar to the 2015 nuclear agreement, and Raisi’s ascension to the presidency probably will push his administration to move more quickly toward this goal. Raisi, a hard-liner who is no friend of the West, won’t be inaugurated until August, placing pressure on Biden administration officials to strike a new deal by then. Raisi has said he will adhere to a deal if it is agreed upon before he is inaugurated.


Why is there such a concerted effort to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons?

Western nations see Iran as a disruptive force in the Middle East and they specifically worry about a nuclear-armed Iran being a threat to Israel. Furthermore, if Iran possessed nuclear weapons, it might encourage other Middle Eastern nations to build their own bombs. Nearly all analysts agree that no one wants to see the spread of nuclear weapons across one of the most turbulent regions in the world.
regions in the world. 

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