Iran's Khatami withdraws from presidential vote

He will back another moderate candidate


Iran's moderate former president Muhammad Khatami on Monday withdrew his candidacy from the country's June presidential election, a close ally said.

"He has decided to withdraw ... but he will back another moderate candidate who will be announced shortly in a statement by Khatami," the ally, who declined to be named, said.

The ally did not give a reason for the withdrawal nor did he name the politician who Khatami would back but the former president had a meeting with another moderate candidate, former prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi, on Sunday.

Mousavi was Iran's last prime minister between 1981 and 1989. Iran scrapped the post of premier when the constitution was revised in 1989. Since then Mousavi has kept a low profile and rarely given interviews.

He is a member of the Expediency Council, the top political arbitration body, and heads Iran's Art Academy, which was established to safeguard the national heritage. He also served as presidential advisor from 1989 to 2005.

Backing Mousavi

Mehr reported on Sunday that during the meeting with his campaign officials, Khatami had spoken out against what he said were attempts to dilute support for reformists.

"Opponents want to divide my supporters and supporters of Mousavi," Khatami was quoted as saying.

"It is not in our interest. Also some conservatives are supporting Mousavi. He (Mousavi) thinks that we have to change the situation. Mousavi is popular and will be able to execute his plans and I prefer he stays in the race."

Before announcing his candidacy on Feb. 8, Khatami had frequently spoken in support of Mousavi and had indicated that either he or the former premier would contest the vote.

Khatami, who served from 1997 to 2005, oversaw a thawing in Iran's ties with the West. Those relations have since sharply deteriorated under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is expected to seek a second four-year term.

Opponents want to divide my supporters and supporters of Mousavi

Muhammad Khatami

Criticizing Ahmadinejad

Ahmadinejad's critics say his fiery speeches against the West have exacerbated a dispute over Iran's nuclear program. They also accuse him of poor economic policies blamed for fuelling inflation and squandering windfall oil earnings.

Khatami swept to power in a landslide vote in 1997, beating a rival seen at the time as the establishment's candidate. He secured votes with promises of political and social change.

But conservatives, who still controlled many levers of power while Khatami was in office, blocked many of his reforms, disappointing supporters such as student activists who said he should have done more to stand up to the establishment.

Analysts have said the fate of the race could depend on whether Ahmadinejad retains the support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say in all matters of state and whose words could influence millions of loyalists.

Khamenei, who will also decide on any move to renew U.S. ties, has in recent months publicly praised Ahmadinejad.