Ebrahim Raisi has been sworn in as Iran’s eighth president.
At the ceremony in the country’s parliament in Tehran on Thursday, Raisi, with a hand on a Quran, read the inauguration oath before adding that he will make Iran stronger and engage with the world.
The 60-year-old Raisi, who is a frontrunner to replace the 82-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Iranians want him to maintain the country’s independence and resist foreign bullying.
But he also promised to pursue “diplomacy and constructive and extensive engagement with the world”, reiterating his stance that boosting relations with regional neighbours would be at the top of his foreign policy.
“I extend a hand of friendship and brotherhood to all countries, especially those in the region,” Raisi said.
He told some 260 local and foreign officials present at the chamber that regional crises need to be resolved through dialogue, and the presence of foreign forces only encourages more instability.
Countering rhetoric by the West, Israel and some Arab neighbours, Raisi also asserted that Iran’s presence in the region creates security and supports peace and stability.
He also said harsh US sanctions, imposed in 2018 after then-US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, must be lifted.
“We will support any diplomatic plans that will achieve this goal,” he said, signalling he will continue negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring the accord.
Moreover, he promised that Iran’s nuclear programme is strictly peaceful and nuclear weapons “have no place in the country’s defence strategy”.
The president tried to convey that he understands the many challenges ahead – including a troubled economy – and said he will try to improve the quality of life for all Iranians.
He further promised to be a “true defender of human rights”, not just in Iran but across the region.
This follows calls on Thursday by Amnesty International for Raisi to be “criminally investigated” for his role in the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
Raisi’s speech came after addresses by parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and newly selected judiciary chief Mohsen Ejei.
Raisi, Ghalibaf and Ejei hailed the country’s June 18 presidential elections as “historic” and “epic” and said it signalled that the people of Iran trust the establishment and the “revolutionary” elements within it represented by the hardliners.
“Jihadi management is the solution to all the physical and spiritual problems of the society,” Ghalibaf said.
Ghalibaf came to power in February 2020 in elections that saw a 42 percent turnout, the lowest in any election since the 1979 revolution.
The June presidential elections saw a 48.8 percent turnout, also the lowest in any presidential election since the revolution.
Reformist and moderate candidates were widely disqualified from running in either race.
The selection of a hardline Tehran mayor next week would signal the completion of a takeover of power by hardliners who have been significantly empowered since the US reneged on the nuclear deal.
The president now has two weeks to present his cabinet picks but is likely to do so earlier after the supreme leader, on Tuesday, directed him in his endorsement ceremony to form his team quickly since the country is in a dire economic situation and needs immediate action.
In addition to top officials of the country, including the outgoing president, Hassan Rouhani, the inauguration ceremony was attended by dozens of high-level representatives from more than 70 countries, including several heads of state, according to state television.
In preparation, Tehran was ordered to shut down entirely on Thursday. Streets around the parliament were cleared, government offices and banks were closed, and airports stopped operating for several hours.
Iraqi President Barham Salih, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Palestinian Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh, and Russian Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin were some of the top leaders from the region to attend the ceremony.
Other regional representative guests included the speaker of Turkey’s National Assembly, Mustafa Sentop, Pakistani Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjirani, Yemeni Houthis’ chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam, Syrian parliament Speaker Hammouda Sabbagh, and Azerbaijani National Assembly Chairman Sahiba Gafarova.
Delegates also attended from several nations from Africa, South America, Europe and Eastern Asia. Pope Francis sent a representative as well.