Can Iranian 'Moderate' Presidential Candidate Split Conservative Vote and Win?

By: AP
By: AP

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's former top nuclear negotiator, a candidate in next week's presidential elections, vowed Saturday he will reset the country's economy and reverse President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's foreign policy stance if elected.

Addressing a campaign rally in Tehran, Hasan Rowhani said his priority in foreign policy would be to "reconcile" with the outside world and distance Iran from Ahmadinejad's combative, hardline style.

Iran's president does not have control of central issues like nuclear policy, but a president who has a close relationship with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei can wield influence.

Rowhani blamed Ahmadinejad for Iran's ailing economy, saying his mismanagement and hardline policies brought punishing sanctions for Iran.

Rowhani is one of eight candidates approved by the Guardian Council, Iran's election overseers, to run in the June 14 race to pick a successor to Ahmadinejad.

"We won't let the past 8 years be continued. They brought sanctions for the country. Yet, they are proud of it," he told a cheering crowd. "I'll pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace. We will also reconcile with the world."

Iran is living under U.N. sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment. The West imposed oil and banking sanctions deeply cutting Iran's revenues.

Rowhani says Iran should protect its nuclear achievements and work to get sanctions lifted through constructive interaction with the outside world.

"Despite all the problems, we will break sanctions through people's assistance, unity, national solidarity and consensus among authorities."

Rowhani said one of his top priorities will be to improve Iran's economy.

"My plan is to save the country's economy," he said. Iran's currency, the rial, has lost more than half of its value in the past year. Inflation stands at over 30 percent and unemployment more than 14 percent.

The symbol of Rowhani's campaign is a key and his campaign headquarters is nicknamed "Government of Prudence and Hope."

"We will unlock all the locks which have been set on the life of people in the past eight years," Rowhani said while holding a key in his one hand and a purple ribbon in his other hand. His campaign uses purple as its official color.

"I'll restore national dignity and pride to Iranians," he said, prompting some 10,000 supporters to rise to their feet. "To the gentlemen (Ahmadinejad) who brought the country to where it is today, the people don't want you."

Rowhani's main rivals are conservative candidates backed by hardline clerics including top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati.


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