WASHINGTON – The Biden administration has responded to the massive disqualification of Iran’s candidates for the upcoming presidential election by saying Iranians should be free to choose their own leaders.
The White House statement coincides with strong criticism of Iran’s electoral system by Iranian rights activists and American conservatives as neither free nor fair.
The Iranian Guardian Council, which controls candidates in elections, on Tuesday approved a final list of seven candidates in the June 18 vote to replace outgoing two-term president Hassan Rouhani. The twelve-member council of jurists and clerks overseen by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, disqualified 583 more people from running in the election, leaving only Khamenei’s seven loyal conservatives, Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi is the highlight.
A White House National Security Council spokesman asked VOA Persian a reaction to the disqualifications, saying that “Iranians should be able to exercise their right to choose their own leaders and participate freely in the political process, including elections “.
According to the March State Department report on Tehran’s human rights record, the Iranian Guardian Council has failed to monitor presidential and parliamentary electoral processes by routinely disqualifying candidates based on political or other considerations. Khamenei, who has served as supreme leader since 1989, appoints half of the council members, while the chief justice, who he also appoints, selects the other half.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to comment on the Iranian election process earlier this month, when a Financial Times reporter asked how the likely victory of a hard-line candidate would affect talks. indirect talks of the United States with Iran in Vienna on a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan (JCPOA), a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers.
“Look, it’s very difficult to predict, and I certainly don’t want to go into hypotheses about what outcome or other in Iran’s election: what impact it would have or not on any nuclear negotiations,” Blinken told the British newspaper.
U.S. President Joe Biden has said he wants to reactivate the 2015 agreement, in which the United States and other world powers offered relief from sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on Iranian nuclear activities that they could be armed. His predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrew from the deal in 2018, saying it was not tough enough with Iran, and began tightening US sanctions. Iran, which denies the search for nuclear weapons, retaliated in 2019 by initiating an ongoing process of overcoming the nuclear restrictions of the agreement.
Speaking to VOA Persian in a May 20 interview, U.S. Rep. David Price, a Democrat and ally of Biden, expressed hope that Iran’s presidential election will produce “reasoned leadership” that will agree to resume compliance with the JCPOA in exchange for the elimination proposed by the Biden administration. some Trump-era sanctions against Tehran.
“I hope the election doesn’t derail us or make the deal difficult,” Price said.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo harshly criticized the upcoming vote in a May 17 interview with VOA Persian.
“It will be fraudulent. It will be unfair to have disqualified candidates. It will be a complete joke,” said Pompeo, Trump’s top diplomat.
Iranian rights activists in Iran and abroad have been using social media in recent weeks to urge their comrades to boycott the vote in protest of the Islamic Republic’s authoritarian political system and the mismanagement of the government of an economy. paralyzed by U.S. sanctions and a still serious coronavirus pandemic.
Recent public opinion polls conducted by the Iranian state have suggested that turnout in the June presidential vote could drop to 40% for the first time since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, in which its Shiite clerics rulers took power from a collapsing monarchy.
“Whenever you have a lower turnout, it means your elections are less representative of the people you claim to govern,” Pompeo told VOA.
“Free and fair”
The less combative messages from the Biden administration about the Iranian elections were supported by analyst Barbara Atlantic Slavin, an advocate for the reactivation of the JCPOA.
“I don’t think the U.S. should play Iranian politics or be able to play it. It won’t work and it would probably just increase Iran’s distrust of American motives,” Slavin said in a message to VOA Persian. “The best course is to continue the talks in Vienna and see if Iran will accept a timetable for a mutual return to JCPOA compliance.”
James Carafano, a Heritage Foundation analyst and JCPOA critic, told VOA Persian that the Biden administration and its supporters’ statements about Iran’s election are dishonest.
“We all want the elections to be free and fair and produce a more pro-government for a better deal that addresses the vital interests of the U.S. and those of our allies in the region,” Carafano said. “But the statement by the Biden administration (which calls for Iran to allow free participation in the vote) is incredibly misleading, because that will not happen and I know they know it,” he said.
A victory for one of Khamenei’s loyal candidates in the election will also likely “harden Iran’s negotiating position toward the U.S., not the other way around,” Carafano said.
Chief Justice Raisi, considered the favorite by many observers, criticized Rouhani’s treatment of the JCPOA negotiations as he ran as a candidate in the 2017 Iranian elections which saw Rouhani win a second term. Raisi accused Rouhani in a televised debate of showing weakness towards world powers.
Raisi maintained his criticism of the Rouhani administration last month, and Iranian state media quoted Raisi as questioning the wisdom of continuing negotiations with the West as Iran struggles under US sanctions.
“If (some politicians) had spent the time they spent looking for Western concessions to boost national production, the problems would have been solved,” Raisi said, not to mention Rouhani by name.
Regardless of who wins the Iranian presidential contest next month, the final decision on whether Iran will resume fulfilling its JCPOA commitments rests with Khamenei.
This article originated from the Persian VOA service. Click here for the original Persian version of the story.