Iran’s only reformist candidate in the presidential election has vowed to try to resolve the conflict with world powers over the “first chance” nuclear deal if elected.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Abdolnaser Hemmati, a former central bank governor who struggles with tough rivals in Friday’s vote, said that if he won his priorities it would be the revival of the nuclear deal. in 2015, an agreement to lift U.S. sanctions and attract investment.
“If the United States returns to its commitments under the JCPOA [the nuclear accord] and Iran can verify that sanctions have been lifted. . . it would be an important step towards trust between Iran and the United States, ”he said.
Polls suggest Hemmati is running a second away for his main tough rival Ebrahim Raisi and the odds seem to be stacked against his chances of pulling off a shock victory. But the 64-year-old said he had already asked Mohammad Javad Zarif, the first Iranian diplomat and one of the architects of the nuclear deal, to be in his government.
He added that if sanctions were lifted and conditions improved, a meeting with US President Joe Biden “would not be impossible.” “In general, I don’t refuse.” [the possibility of talks with the US] but it will depend on the behavior and actions of the United States, ”he said.“ My priority is to lift the sanctions. This is very important, ”he added.
Hemmati’s comments underscore what is at stake in the election and may highlight the differences between the reformist and his tough rivals after four years of hostility between Tehran and the Trump administration.
Raisi, the first leader, suggested that, if he wins, he would support the ongoing negotiations between Tehran and the remaining signatories to the nuclear agreement – the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China – which are intended to mediate an agreement that would bring to the US meeting the agreement and the removal of sanctions.
But analysts say Raisi, head of the judiciary, should take a much more conservative approach and not give priority to relations with Western states. Raisi said his focus will be on supporting domestic industrial production. This puts him more in line with the position articulated by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s top leader, which many Iranians suspect to favor Raisi. While Khamenei has the final say on all crucial foreign and security policies, the president may influence the direction Iran takes.
Outgoing President Hassan Rouhani signed the nuclear deal in 2015 under which Tehran agreed to tightly limit its nuclear activities in exchange for the removal of sanctions by the US. But the deal fell through after Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and imposed sanctions on the republic. Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign has led Iran into a spiral recession, severely weakened the reformists who supported the agreement and encouraged the hardliners who have resisted engagement with the United States.
Biden promised to renounce the agreement if Iran returns to fully respect the agreement. But any possibility of easing hostilities is compounded by Iran’s refusal to make concessions on its support to regional militant groups and its increasingly sophisticated missile program.
Hemmati, a flat-panel technocrat who led the central bank through the crisis, said the Iranian economy could withstand sanctions. But he added that punitive measures by the United States are preventing the republic from developing at the pace needed to address Iran’s economic troubles.
“We cannot have fast and solid economic development in a closed atmosphere. We need foreign technology, investment and finance,” he said. “Foreign policy should serve Iran’s economic development, which would be my government’s top priority.”
Analysts say Hemmati’s only chance of victory is if Raisi is not able to secure more than 50% of the vote. There is therefore a backlash and pro-democracy Iranians could vote in larger numbers to support Hemmati.
His last-minute bid for the presidency took on significance after authorities banned all major reformist candidates. But his campaign has been undermined by the sense of despair of many Iranians after the turmoil of the past three years and what they perceive to be broken promises that the nuclear deal will bring prosperity and end years of isolation. As a result, many reformist supporters say they will boycott the election amid predictions that turnout could be the lowest for a presidential contest since the 1979 revolution.
The Iranian elections have a history of unpredictability and people close to Hemmati say they remain optimistic. But their hopes depend on convincing disillusioned voters that their ballots can change.
“The relationship between the people and the state has weakened – it’s a fact. I’m short on telling people it can change,” he said.
He described the vote as “day of destiny”. “I can open some windows of hope for people, I shouldn’t let these windows close,” he said. “If that happens, it’s not clear when they will open again and what will happen before these windows are reopened.”