Saeed Jalili, Former Nuclear Negotiator, Contends for Iran’s Presidency

July 4, 2024 by No Comments

Saeed Jalili, a hardline Iranian presidential candidate and former top nuclear negotiator, has been described as a “true believer” by Western diplomats who found his negotiations difficult and unproductive. During his time as negotiator, Jalili was known for his lengthy lectures and lack of concessions. He likened the negotiation process to the meticulous weaving of Iranian carpets, suggesting that progress would be slow and precise.

Jalili’s negotiations in 2008 stalled progress as Iran, under the guidance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, advanced its nuclear program. This led to pressure on the West, which eventually eased with the 2015 nuclear deal. However, Jalili’s potential victory in the upcoming runoff election against Masoud Pezeshkian could see negotiations freeze again, given his hardline stance and the current state of Iran’s nuclear program.

Jalili’s vision for Iran has been criticized by opponents for resembling the Taliban’s ideology. This is particularly concerning given the public’s anger following the security force crackdown on protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini. Amini died in police custody after being detained for allegedly wearing her headscarf improperly.

Jalili, known as the “Living Martyr” for losing a leg in the Iran-Iraq war, has a background in academia and government. He served as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator from 2007 to 2013, making a notable impression on Western diplomats. Former CIA director William Burns described Jalili as “a true believer in the Iranian Revolution” who could be “stupefyingly opaque” when avoiding direct answers.

Jalili was replaced as negotiator after coming in third in the 2013 presidential election. He opposed the 2015 nuclear deal and formed a “shadow government” to undermine it. His 2013 campaign was endorsed by the late Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, who advocated for Iran’s right to develop “special weapons,” a veiled reference to nuclear weapons.

While Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, Western nations and U.N. inspectors maintain that Iran had a military nuclear program until 2003. Recent months have seen Iranian officials increasingly threatening to build a bomb if necessary, as they enrich uranium to near-weapons-grade levels.

Advocates for Jalili’s opponent, Pezeshkian, warn that a Jalili presidency could bring hardline policies similar to the Taliban. Jalili acknowledges the comparison while dismissing it as a tactic by his opponents. He has remained vague about his stance on the ongoing dispute over the hijab, while members of his campaign have called for stricter punishment against women who refuse to wear the headscarf. Jalili has been endorsed by Mohammad Mehdi Mirbagheri, a fundamentalist ayatollah who belongs to the Front of Islamic Revolution Stability, a far-right group that advocates for stricter hijab laws.

“They want blocking and closures in everything, no matter the field,” said political analyst Mehrdad Khadir. “It’s the same when it comes to the issue of women, internet or any other issue.”