The eight candidates competing to be president of Iran have finished their third and final televised debate. The lively event, which lasted more than four hours on June 7, was focused on domestic and foreign policies.
The most heated issue was Tehran's nuclear talks with world powers. During the proceedings, the country's top nuclear negotiator, Said Jalili, ceme under fire from rival candidates over the lack of progress in negotiations.
Former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati cast doubt on Jalili's ability, insisting that diplomacy was not just theory.
"What people are seeing, Mr Jalili, is that you have not gone forward even one step, and the pressure of sanctions still exists," he said. "The art of diplomacy is to preserve our nuclear rights, not to see sanctions increase."
Many candidates identified hard-hitting Western sanctions, which have targeted the country's oil and financial sector, as the main reason for Iran's ailing economy.
During the debate, former parliament speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel maintained that securing the removal of sanctions could revive an economy suffering from high inflation and a currency crisis.
"With better management, it would have been and will be possible to ease the [economic] sanctions and diminish their impact," he said. "Resolving the issue of the sanctions is a priority in our foreign policy."
Velayati, a top advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also urged the need for Tehran to repair its image abroad.
"We need to improve our relations with the rest of the world," he said. "If I become president, I will take up a constructive way of handling relationships with other countries."
Criticism Of The West
University professor Mohammad Reza Aref, a relative moderate, said Tehran should establish good relations with millions of Iranians living abroad, and use them as Iran's "cultural ambassadors."
The candidates were mostly critical of Western policies toward Tehran.
Jalili, who is widely seen as the frontrunner in the presidential race, said that despite Iran's "cooperation" with the West on "the issue of Afghanistan, Iran was branded as [part of the] axis of evil" by Washington.
Jalili also emphasized that there are fundamental differences between the foreign policies of Iran and Washington on many issues, notably in regard to Israel.
"Commitment to the Zionist regime is a fundamental principle of America's foreign policy," he said. "Not recognizing the Zionist regime is a principle of our foreign policy."
Most candidates also agreed that factional feuding was damaging the government.
Aref claimed that, if elected, he would form an inclusive government that would bring together reformists, traditionalists loyal to the supreme leader, and figures from current President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's camp.
"Affairs in the past eight years demonstrated that we cannot fully address the nation's needs and accomplish the [Islamic] revolution's visions if we restrict ourselves to only one political wing," he said.
Candidates will now have little less than a week for campaigning before the presidential vote gets under way on June 14.
With reporting by Reuters
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