Iran Pres Candidate: Would Seek Direct Dialogue With US
DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
June 2, 2005 12:39 p.m.
TEHRAN (AP)--A leading reformist candidate in Iran's presidential election said Thursday that if elected he would seek direct talks with the U.S. to end more than a quarter century of estrangement between the two countries.
Former culture and higher education Minister Mostafa Moin told supporters that the taboo issue of dealing directly with the U.S. must be tackled.
"Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge in our foreign policy is the United States...On the basis of mutual national interests, we have to start a dialogue without any intermediary," he said in a campaign speech.
Moin, a close ally of outgoing President Mohammad Khatami, enjoys popularity among Iran's predominantly young population.
The June 17 presidential election comes as Iran is facing international pressure over its controversial nuclear program, trying to convince the U.S. and Europe that it is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Moin is the only candidate to support Iran's continued suspension of all uranium enrichment-related activities to avoid a nuclear crisis and reach a compromise with the Europeans.
Powerful former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, regarded as the front-runner for the presidency, said he wouldn't end Iran's nuclear program but would try to assure the international community that the country would not develop an atomic bomb.
"They (Europeans and U.S.) say Iran may divert its program towards weapons," he said Thursday. "We have to take this pretext from them. We have to give them all necessary guarantees to assure them we won't divert from a peaceful path," Rafsanjani said.
"I will make more efforts, if elected, to win their confidence," he said.
The former president is believed to have considerable influence over Iran's nuclear program.
The election will replace Khatami, who is barred by law from seeking a third term. Though Khatami came to power in a popular landslide in 1997, hard-line clerics led by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have succeeded in stifling his program for political and social reform. Hard-liners regained control of parliament in disputed elections last year after barring thousands of reformist candidates from running.
The ruling clerics see the June vote as a chance to consolidate their grip on power. The Guardian Council, a hard-line constitutional watchdog, initially barred reformers from running for president, but Khamenei intervened and forced the council to reverse the ban.
With the reformist movement severely weakened, Rafsanjani is seen as the most credible force to stop hard-line allies of Iran's supreme leader from seizing the post of president - although the savvy politician has changed his stripes frequently in the past, sometimes backing the hard-liner camp, sometimes taking a more moderate line and seeking to build ties with the West.
About 48 million Iranians are eligible to vote, although initial surveys suggests only half intend to do so.