DUBAI - Steadfastly loyal to Iran's supreme leader, Saeed Jalili has taken a tough line with the West as chief nuclear negotiator and is now a leading contender in the June 14 presidential election with a slick campaign and pledges to fix the faulty economy.
With two prominent, more pragmatic candidates disqualified from running, the race is now dominated by conservative hardliners true to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Though there is no clear front-runner in a country without reliable opinion polls, among the three high-profile conservatives still standing, Jalili may be nosing ahead. Given what analysts say is Khamenei's determination to see a firm loyalist back in the presidency, it is likely that one of them will win, defeating the sole moderate contender.
Since his appointment as chief nuclear negotiator in 2007, Jalili has overseen a hardening of Iran's position in talks with world powers who believe Tehran may be seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Iran denies the accusation.