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Spiritual leader of Iranian Reformists backs Rouhani

In his bid for a second term, moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has won the endorsement of an influential Reformist: former President Mohammad Khatami.
Iranian President Seyed Mohammad Khatami speaks during a news
conference at the 10th Organisation of Islamic Conference summit in
Putrajaya near Kuala Lumpur October 17, 2003. Muslim leaders winding up
the summit on Friday were set to criticise a U.S. Congress vote to
impose trade sactions on Syria, a move host Malaysia says set "a very
dangerous precedent". REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

BM/FA - RTR54VE

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), who leads the Reformist party, has announced his support for moderate incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, refuting rumors that he is backing a different candidate in the May 19 election.

On May 2, Khatami stated on his website that First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri "and the wise figures of the country believe the interests of the people and the country is in the continuance of [a Rouhani presidency].”

“Today, Mr. Rouhani not being elected would mean the increased likelihood of the return of [Iran’s] isolation and sanctions," wrote the Reformist heavyweight.

Khatami, a widely popular figure in Iran who played a significant role in Rouhani’s 2013 victory, continued, “All of us, along with Mr. Jahangiri, will support Mr. Rouhani.”

Jahangiri also is a candidate, but Khatami’s statement indicates that despite some concerns among Reformists and speculation by conservative media, Jahangiri won’t remain as a candidate come election day.

Various reports argue that Jahangiri only stepped into the field to defend Rouhani and his moderate administration and that he will withdraw in favor of Rouhani. Jahangiri’s surprisingly good performance in the face of attacks by conservatives in the presidential debate April 28 made him popular among supporters of the Reformist current, and this led the conservative and hard-line media to publish reports about the possibility of Khatami and the Reformists supporting Jahangiri rather than Rouhani.

Meanwhile, in a May 2 interview with the semi-official Iranian Students' News Agency, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif strongly defended Rouhani’s legacy.

"The reality is that this is a choice that will determine in which direction the country will move in the next four years,” Zarif said, underscoring that it will take time to remedy the effects of economic sanctions levied on Iran during the eight-year presidency of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom Rouhani defeated in 2013.

Referring to Iran's nuclear deal, the foreign minister added, “The time for the efforts related to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] to bear fruit will gradually arrive. … For the continuance of Iran’s power, the policies of the past four years should be continued.”

Referring to the expansion of Iran’s economic relationships with other countries following the signing of the nuclear deal, Zarif said, “Today, foreign policy has come to help people’s livelihoods. ... Protecting the JCPOA” should be the next government's top priority.

In related news, the hard-line Endurance Front, under the leadership of Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, announced its support for conservative Ebrahim Raisi, describing him as “the fittest presidential candidate.”

Of note, Yazdi and the Endurance Front have repeatedly stated that their only criteria for supporting a candidate are the person’s righteousness and determination to “protect the values of the Islamic Revolution.” Yazdi supported Ahmadinejad in the 2005 election, which he won. In 2003, the Endurance Front backed former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, who placed third with 11% of the vote.

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