Ebrahim Raisi’s election produced both criticism and congratulations from world leaders. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki warned that Raisi “will be accountable for gross violations of human rights on his watch going forward.” A hardline cleric who has been the judiciary chief since 2019, Raisi was one of four members on the so-called Death Commission that authorized the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. He was sanctioned by the Treasury Department in 2019 for his role in domestic repression. Bärbel Kofler, Germany’s human rights commissioner, expressed concern that Raisi had “not clarified his own past or distanced himself clearly from human rights abuses.”
In Israel, Prime Minister Natfali Bennett called Raisi an executioner. “Of all the people that [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei could have chosen, he chose the 'Hangman of Tehran’.” He urged world powers participating in talks to get the United States and Iran back into full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal to “wake up” and “understand who they are doing business with.”
China and Russia, longstanding allies of Iran, said that they looked forward to deepening bilateral ties. The following are statements from around the world.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on June 21, 2021:
Question: “And on Iran, the newly elected President has indicated that he does not wish to meet with President Biden or to engage on the components of the JCPOA. What is the President’s view on that?”
Psaki: “We don’t currently have diplomatic relations with Iran or any plans to meet at the leader level, so it’s unclear that anything has actually changed on that front. I will say that the President’s view and our view is that the decisionmaker here is the Supreme Leader. That was the case before the election; is the case today; will be the case, probably, moving forward.”
Question: “[Raisi’s] under U.S. sanctions for the 1988 political prisoner executions. How do you deal with him?”
Psaki: “First, let me say that the new president will, of course, be held accountable for violations of human rights on his watch going forward. We strongly urge the Iranian government, regardless of who’s in power, to release political prisoners, improve respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Iranians.”
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price on June 21, 2021: “Our Iran policy is designed to advance U.S. interests, and that is regardless of who is chosen as Iran’s president in a process that we consider to be pre-manufactured. This was not a free and fair election process in which Iranians were denied their right to choose their own leaders. And when it comes to our diplomacy, we’ve always said that it is absolutely in our interests to arrive at a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA precisely because it would allow us to once again permanently and verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That was in our interests before the Iranian election. It is manifestly in our interests after the election.
“Even though Iran will have a new president in the coming weeks, ultimately it is Iran’s supreme leader who determines Iran’s policy on a range of important issues. Iran will have, we expect, the same supreme leader in August as it will have today, as it had before the elections, as it had in 2015 when the JCPOA was consummated for the first time.”
“The new president will be accountable for gross violations of human rights on his watch going forward. You heard this very forcefully from the President last week in a different context but making the point that the United States of America will always stand up, we will always champion human rights, we will always champion universal values, including those we share with like-minded democracies around the world. Of course, President-elect Raisi is not even inaugurated yet. It would be premature for us to speak to any sort of travel he might undertake once he assumes that office.”
“This is the same supreme leader who was in place in 2015; he was the same supreme leader who was in place before the election; and presumably, he’ll be the same supreme leader who is in place in August when the new Iranian president is inaugurated.”
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on ABC News on June 20, 2021: “I think what we need to do in the United States is keep our eye on the ball. And that is our paramount priority right now is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. We believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve that, rather than military conflict. And so, we're going to negotiate in a clear-eyed, firm way with the Iranians to see if we can arrive at an outcome that puts their nuclear program in the box. And in that regard, whether the president is person A or person B is less relevant than whether their entire system is prepared to make verifiable commitments to constrain their nuclear program.”
Question: “Do you think Raisi's election actually increases the chances of reaching a deal?”
Sullivan: “It's hard to speculate about the internal dynamics in Iran on a question like that. What I would say is that the ultimate decision for whether or not to go back into the deal lies with Iran's supreme leader. And he was the same person before this election as he is after the election.
“So, ultimately, it lies with him and his decision as to whether he wants to go down the path of diplomacy here or face mounting pressure not just from the United States, but the rest of the international community.”
Question: “Raisi himself is facing personal sanctions from the U.S. for his complicity with human rights abuses. Is the U.S. willing to lift those personal sanctions if that’s what it takes to get a deal?”
Sullivan: “The whole question of which sanctions will be lifted is currently being negotiated in Vienna, and I’m not going to conduct those negotiations in public. What I will say is that the United States retains the right even under the JCPOA, even under the Iran nuclear deal, to impose sanctions for reasons other than the nuclear file, for terrorism, for human rights, for missile development.”
State Department spokesperson on June 20, 2021: “"We’ve seen that the Iranian Interior Minister announced Ebrahim Raisi as the winner of the Iranian elections that occurred on Friday, but also make note that Iranians were denied their right to choose their own leaders in a free and fair electoral process.”
“Our Iran policy is designed to advance U.S. interests, regardless of who is in power…We would like to build on the meaningful progress achieved during the latest round of talks in Vienna.”
“We will continue discussions along with our allies and partners on a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”
Foreign Ministry spokesperson on June 19, 2021: “France takes note of Ebrahim Raisi’s election as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“We reiterate the concerns we have expressed on a regular basis over the human rights situation in Iran and the situation of our nationals imprisoned in that country, which we continue to follow closely.
“We reaffirm our wish to return to the full implementation of the Vienna nuclear agreement, a goal French diplomats are actively pursuing. We are also continuing our efforts on behalf of security and stability in the Middle East.”
Bärbel Kofler, human rights commissioner, on June 20, 2021: “The voice of the people in #Iran who are calling for freedom and human rights must be heard! The low turnout indicates that large parts of the population did not see themselves reflected in the field of candidates. #IranElections2021”
“It is concerning that the elected president has until now not clarified his own past or distanced himself clearly from human rights abuses. #HumanRights are non-negotiable, and Iran has committed itself internationally to adhering to them.”
E.U. foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell on June 20, 2021: "We have invested a lot of political capital ... so I hope that the result of the elections is not going to be the last obstacle that will ruin the negotiation process. As far as I know... this is not going to be the case.”
President Vladimir Putin on June 19, 2021: “Relations between our countries have traditionally been friendly and neighborly. I am confident that your work in this high position will contribute to the further development of constructive bilateral cooperation between our countries in various fields as well as partnership interaction in international affairs. This fully meets the interests of the Russian and Iranian peoples and runs in line with enhancing regional security and stability.”
Russian Embassy in Tehran on June 19, 2021: “We respect the choice of the Iranian people. We are ready to consistently strengthen cooperation with the Islamic Republic in all directions, as we did under previous Iranian presidents.”
Foreign Ministry readout of President Xi Jinping’s message on June 21, 2021: “President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to Ebrahim Raisi on his election as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Xi Jinping pointed out in his message that China and Iran are comprehensive strategic partners, and this year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. I highly value the development of China-Iran ties, and stand ready to work with President Raisi to strengthen bilateral strategic communication, consolidate political mutual trust, and broaden and deepen mutually beneficial cooperation of China and Iran in various fields, so as to benefit the two countries and their people.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on June 19, 2021: “This weekend, Iran chose a new president – Ebrahim Raisi. Of all the people that Khamenei could have chosen, he chose the 'Hangman of Tehran,' the man infamous among Iranians and across the world for leading the Death Committees, which executed thousands of innocent Iranian citizens throughout the years.
“Raisi's election is, I would say, the last chance for the world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement, and to understand who they are doing business with. These guys are murderers, mass murderers. A regime of brutal hangmen must never be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction that will enable it to not kill thousands, but millions.”
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on June 19, 2021: “Iran’s new president, known as the Butcher of Tehran, is an extremist responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iranians. He is committed to the regime’s nuclear ambitions and to its campaign of global terror.”
“His election should prompt renewed determination to immediately halt Iran’s nuclear program and put an end to its destructive regional ambitions.”
Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi on June 19, 2021: “Prime Minister @MAKadhimi had a telephone conversation with the President of the Islamic Republic Sayyid Ebrahim Raisi and offered his congratulations to Sayyid Raisi on the occasion of his victory in the Iranian presidential elections.
“Mr. Kadhimi stressed throughout the call the importance of strengthening bilateral ties between the two countries and his aspiration to increase shared cooperation in various fields, especially the economy and security, in addition to the fight against terrorism, and in a way that boosts the security and stability of the two countries and the region.”
President Barham Salih on June 19, 2021: “I extend my sincere congratulations on the election of Your Excellency as the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Wish you would have every success in discharging your tasks to serve the Iranian and to make further progress and prosperity.
“Iraq truly looks forward to strengthening its relations with Iran and works to have even closer brotherly and friendly ties that linked the two nations through their historical, cultural and social bonds.
“Furthermore, Iran had an important and facilitating role to play in supporting Iraqi populations in the fight against terrorism and extremism, and it helped to address the negative consequences of the regional conflicts and crisis that would threaten peace and security in the region.”
“The region today must act wisely and rationally while using and promoting dialogue must be employed to calm tensions and resolve conflicts... We reiterate our warmest congratulations on your elections as Iran's new President, and express hope that during your term of office the relations between the two countries would keep progressing toward mutual constructive cooperation.”
Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah on June 19, 2021: “We expect that with the victory of Mr. Ebrahim Raisi the relations between the two governments and nations will be increased and strengthened more and more in areas of culture, economy, campaign against drug trafficking, and campaign against terrorism.”
Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah on June 19, 2021: “Wishing him further success and wellness, as well as the friendly Islamic Republic to further progress and prosper.”
Prime Minister Imran Khan on June 19, 2021: “Congratulations to Excellency brother Ibrahim Raisi @raisi_com on his landmark victory in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s 13th Presidential elections. Look forward to working with him for further strengthening of our fraternal ties and for regional peace, progress and prosperity.”
Readout of Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s message on June 19, 2021: “HH the Amir sent a cable of congratulations to HE Ebrahim Raisi on the occasion of his victory in the presidential elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran, wishing him success and the relations between the two countries further development and growth.”
Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on June 22, 2021: “From our perspective, foreign policy in Iran is in any case run by the supreme leader and therefore we base our interactions and our approach to Iran on the reality on the ground, and that is what we will judge the new government on, regardless of who is in charge.”
Readout of President Bash al Assad’s message on June 19, 2021: “Assad expressed, on behalf of the Syrian people and on his own behalf, heartfelt congratulations to the Iranian president on winning the presidential election.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on June 19, 2021: "Stating my belief that cooperation between our two countries will strengthen during your presidency, I am ready to work together with you.”
United Arab Emirates
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice-President of the UAE, on June 19, 2021: "We congratulate the elected President Ebrahim Raisi for his victory in the presidential elections…we wish for the Islamic Republic and for our bilateral relations, stability, continuity and prosperity.”
Julia Dickson, a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson Center, and Andrew Hanna, a program specialist at the U.S. Institute of Peace, organized this collection.