Iran set to stay on hardline course after Raisi win, Saudi commentators say

FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a campaign rally in Tehran
FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran June 15, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

June 21, 2021

DUBAI (Reuters) – The election of a hardline Iranian president has so far been met with silence from Saudi Arabia, but commentators in state-controlled Saudi newspapers forecast little change in Iran’s foreign policy as security hawks tighten their grip on power.

Most Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates which is also at odds with Iran, offered congratulations after judge Ebrahim Raisi, an ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who wields ultimate power, emerged the winner in Friday’s presidential election.

“After Ebrahim Raisi’s win we do not expect any important changes in foreign policy since it falls under the supreme leader, and the (nuclear) deal being negotiated by (incumbent President Hassan) Rouhani’s team in Vienna will go through,” wrote Abdulrahman Rashed in Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat daily.

Riyadh and its allies are eyeing the talks between global powers and Iran to revive a 2015 nuclear pact that Washington quit in 2018 and which Gulf states opposed for not addressing Tehran’s missile programme and support for regional proxies.

Analysts said progress in Vienna would determine momentum in direct talks between Riyadh and Tehran launched in April to contain tensions that have festered over the Yemen war and which grew following a 2019 attack on Saudi oil plants.

“Reconciliation with Iran is possible but within a pragmatic political framework…,” said Ali al-Kheshaiban in an op-ed in Al Riyadh newspaper. “The language of moderation and equivalence is the only political language capable of curbing Iran.”

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in April said Riyadh wanted good ties with Tehran, adopting a more conciliatory tone as he tries to balance long-held animosity with economic considerations and bridge differences with Washington over how to tackle Tehran’s regional behaviour.

President Joe Biden, who has demanded Iran rein in its missile programme and end support for proxies, withdrew support for a military campaign led by Riyadh in Yemen against the Iran-aligned Houthis, who continue cross-border attacks on the kingdom.

Saudi commentator Khaled Suleiman, writing in Okaz daily, said Washington was “turning its cheek” to Iran and should avoid making “free concessions” that embolden Tehran.

(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous, Editing by William Maclean)

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