New President Ebrahim Raisi takes the oath before parliament Thursday, with Iran facing an economy battered by US sanctions, a grinding health crisis and thorny negotiations on its nuclear programme.
The ultraconservative former judiciary chief officially began his four-year mandate on Tuesday when he was inaugurated by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Raisi takes over from moderate Hassan Rouhani, whose landmark achievement during his two-term presidency was the 2015 nuclear agreement between the Islamic republic and six world powers.
Raisi, who won office in a June 18 election marked by record abstention after many heavyweights were barred from standing, is set to be sworn in before parliament at 5:00 pm (1230 GMT).
Traffic limitations are to be imposed on streets around the parliament and flights suspended for two and a half hours in Tehran and the adjacent provinces of Alborz and Qazvin, state TV said.
Iran has been grappling with a deep economic and social crisis following former president Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw the United States from the nuclear deal in 2018 and impose crushing sanctions.
In response, Tehran pulled back from most of its main commitments in the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
“We believe the people’s economic position is unfavourable, both because of the hostility of our enemies and because of the shortcomings and problems inside the country,” Raisi said on Tuesday.
His new government would seek to lift “oppressive” sanctions, but would “not tie the nation’s standard of living to the will of foreigners”, he added.
The 60-year-old faces warnings to Iran from the United States, Britain and Israel over a deadly tanker attack last week, for which Tehran denies responsibility.
Iran is also battling the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than four million cases and upwards of 92,000 deaths.
– Nuclear talks –
Iranian media outlets said Raisi was also expected to present his proposed cabinet line-up ahead of a two-week deadline to do so.
State media said several foreign officials had arrived in Tehran to attend Thursday’s ceremony, including the presidents of Iraq and Afghanistan and parliament speakers from Russia, South Africa and Syria, among others.
European Union diplomat and nuclear deal negotiator Enrique Mora, who met Iran’s outgoing Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran on Wednesday, is among representatives from the bloc who arrived in Iran’s capital, according to the agency.
Six rounds of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers were held in Vienna between April and June in an attempt to revive the accord. The last round concluded on June 20, with no date set for another.
Raisi’s presidency is due to consolidate power in the hands of conservatives following their 2020 parliamentary election victory, which was marked by the disqualification of thousands of reformist or moderate candidates.
The new president got to work on Wednesday, chairing a coronavirus task force meeting and also seeing ministers from the Rouhani administration, the presidency said.
– ‘Multiple challenges’ –
The new president will have his work cut out for him on several fronts, several Iranian newspapers noted after his inauguration.
US sanctions have choked Iran and its vital oil exports, and the economy contracted by more than six percent in both 2018 and 2019.
Raisi will have to “face multiple challenges due to the high number of problems”, an editorial in the ultraconservative Kayhan newspaper said Wednesday, including “unprecedented inflation”, steep housing prices, a private-sector recession and “corruption”.
Ultraconservative daily Javan called on the new government to “implement specific plans to resolve the urgent” problems.
It cited “water and electricity, basic products and vaccinations” as among issues that need to be resolved in the short term.
Rolling blackouts began in Tehran and other large cities last month, with officials blaming the impact of drought on hydroelectric power generation as well as surging demand.
Demonstrators took to the streets of Khuzestan province in the southwest over water shortages.
Reformist newspaper Shargh expressed the hope that “political games will make way for healthy intellectual rivalry and different discourse and voices” in the new government.
“That will only be possible by promoting press and media freedom and great tolerance on the part of government members,” it added.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)