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(photo credit: AP)
One of the conservatives who ran in the Iranian presidential elections, Mohsen Rezaei, said Tuesday that he participated in the official nomination of incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second presidential term "out of respect to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and not out of recognition of Ahmadinejad's presidency."
Rezaei, a conservative, was previously commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Reformist candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi did not participate in the ceremony.
On Monday, Iran's supreme leader bestowed his formal endorsement on Ahmadinejad's second term as president, but withheld a powerful symbolic gesture - the kisses and close embrace that portrayed their bond four years ago.
The awkward and halting moment came when Ahmadinejad leaned forward to kiss Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But the supreme leader raised his left hand and momentarily stopped Ahmadinejad, who spoke a few words and then kissed Khamenei's robe.
Both have been battered by, and bound together against, the pro-reform backlash. But it's still a potentially problematic relationship.
Khamenei appeared to signal he is willing to stand by Ahmadinejad - as he has since the election - but that the supercharged political climate requires new sensitivity to public opinion.
Ahmadinejad also crossed a political line last month by resisting Khamenei's calls to dismiss a top aide - whom Ahmadinejad eventually dumped.
After Ahmadinejad's surprise election in 2005, Khamenei allowed him to kiss his hand in a show of loyalty. Then Khamenei drew him close and kissed him on both cheeks with a benevolent smile.
This time, Ahmadinejad moved toward Khamenei but was offered only the chance to kiss the leader's robe - a gesture of respect but far more restrained than four years ago.
"It's as if Khamenei was saying, 'Hey, listen. Don't think that we are this close team we once were,'" said Patrick Clawson, deputy director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The state's Islamic Republic News Agency reported that Ahmadinejad had a cold, suggesting this could be the cause for the more cautious reception.