Hardliner Ebrahim Raisi is set to become Iran’s next president after winning a landslide victory Saturday in an election marked by low turnout and allegations from some quarters that the process was unfair.
The election has for now paused ongoing negotiations that could bring the US back to the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement and see and easing of sanctions that have devastated Iran's oil exports and crippled its economy.
Raisi, 60, will take the reins in August from moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who has served the maximum two consecutive four-year terms permitted under Iran's constitution.
The new president-elect is said to be a close confidant of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his rise to the top ranks is seen as a threat to Iran’s indirect negotiations with world powers aimed at reviving the nuclear deal.
While Raisi has sought an immediate end to the US sanctions and a return to the 2015 accord — also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — observers say his election is expected to further delay ongoing negotiations.
Diplomats recently adjourned the sixth round of negotiations in Vienna, Austria with little to show, despite Iran's chief negotiator Abbas Araqchi claiming that representatives were "closer than ever to an agreement".
At his first news conference as president-elect, Raisi said his approach to foreign policy will not be limited by the nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor.
"We will not allow negotiations to be for negotiations' sake. Negotiations should not be dragged out but each sitting should bear results. A result-oriented negotiation is important to us and it should have an outcome for the Iranian nation," he was quoted as saying by local media.
Raisi also dismissed the possibility of any negotiations over Iran's ballistic missile programme and its regional policies, including its support of armed groups in several countries, the BBC reported.
In the 2015 landmark pact, Iran agreed to restrict its nuclear weapons programme in returns for sanctions relief.
However, former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and launched a scathing high-pressure campaign against Iran.
The US has raised concerns about the election, saying people were not allowed to participate in a "free and fair electoral process".
Several political leaders in Iran were barred from running, leading to allegations that the process was manipulated by Khamenei to ensure that a like-minded hardliner became the country’s next president.
A US State Department spokesperson reacting to Raisi’s win said: "Iranians were denied their right to choose their own leaders in a free and fair electoral process."
However, the US has reiterated that it will continue with indirect talks with Iran aimed at the US rejoining the 2015 nuclear deal.
The State Department spokesperson said that recent talks with Iran have made "meaningful progress".
"We will continue discussions along with our allies and partners on a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action," the spokesperson said.
Oil price impact
Raisi’s election win and the sluggish pace of negotiations to date have lent bullish support to oil prices, with the market hoping that additional Iranian barrels are unlikely to flood the international market in the short term.
Rystad Energy oil markets analyst Louise Dickson said in a note this week that additional Iranian oil “would be a bearish factor in price shaping” but added that “as there is a current pause in negotiations, traders tick (oversupply) off their worry list for the moment".
Dickson wrote: “Meanwhile, talks between the West and Iran to rebuild a nuclear deal that could bring back Iranian oil barrels to the global market are for the moment paused as a result of the Iranian election."
However, the failure of Iran and the world leaders to clinch an agreement puts pressure on members of the Opec+ coalition, which meets soon to consider releasing additional barrels into the market.
Opec+ is an alliance between Opec and other key producers, led by Russia, that has imposed output curbs in an attempt to rebalance the global oil market following a slump in demand and prices due to the coronavirus pandemic.