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Iran's Reformist Khatami Says He Will Run For President

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami

Iran's former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, has said he intends to run for the presidency again in elections set for June 12.

"Here I am announcing that I will seriously take part as a candidate for the election," the 65-year-old Khatami told a meeting of a pro-reform political group.

People at the gathering clapped when they heard his statement.

"I never had doubt. Is it possible to remain indifferent toward the revolution's fate and shy away from running in the elections?" Khatami said.

"We should pay attention to having a free and legitimate election, and also secure a high turnout," he added.

Stark Choice

The race will offer a stark choice for voters between Khatami and incumbent President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, whose first four years in office have witnessed a sharp deterioration in ties with the West as tensions over Iran's nuclear work have mounted.

" I never had doubt. Is it possible to remain indifferent toward the revolution's fate and shy away from running in the elections? "

While in office from 1997 to 2005, Khatami worked for detente with the West and for political and social change at home.

But hard-liners in charge of major levers of power in Iran blocked many of his reforms, costing Khatami some key supporters.

The June poll will pit him against President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who often rails against Western powers.

Moderate Iranian cleric Mehdi Karrubi has also said he'll run.

Since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, ties with the West have deteriorated as tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions have mounted.

Ahmadinejad has also faced mounting criticism over his economic management and surging inflation, which climbed to almost 30 percent last year. Reformists, in particular, say his fiery foreign policy speeches have further isolated Iran.

A bid by Khatami is likely to polarize the race, in which others have already declared, and may encourage conservatives to unite to prevent a reformist winning, even though some of them have also criticized Ahmadinejad.

Retain Khamenei's Support?

But analysts say the result of the vote could hinge on whether Ahmadinejad retains the support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's top authority who has publicly praised the president and whose words could sway millions of loyalists.

Ahmadinejad may also be able to call on the backing of Iranians in poorer and particularly rural areas where the impact of his spending has been most obvious, analysts say, although they add that his largesse is why prices have climbed so fast.

Although many of Khatami's reforms were blocked, such as a law to ease press restrictions, the media did become more vibrant during Khatami's term -- even if many newspapers were banned -- and some social strictures did loosen.

But some of Khatami's main supporters became disillusioned with him by the end of his presidency, saying he should have done more to push through change.

Students, who were once at the vanguard of the reform movement, have now fallen largely silent.

Iranian presidents can serve two consecutive four-year terms but must then step down. They can run again at a later date.

Compiled from agency reports

Copyright (c) 2009 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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