Iran's elections c'tee says won't ban candidate

Former nuclear negotiator running for president accused of revealing classified information on Tehran's nuclear program.

June 10, 2013 13:23
3 minute read.
Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani [file].

Hassan Rohani 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann AKW/JOH)

DUBAI - Iran's Guardian Council said on Monday it was not considering barring any presidential candidate days before the June 14 vote, denying Iranian media reports that it was reviewing the candidacy of moderate cleric Hassan Rohani.

"A further review of the qualifications of candidates has not been raised and we deny such a thing," Iran's state news agency IRNA quoted Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodai as saying.

Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency said on Sunday the Guardian Council would consider whether to disqualify Rohani for revealing what it said was classified information on Iran's nuclear program in a televised presidential debate and for some slogans chanted by his supporters during rallies.

Rohani is the most prominent moderate candidate approved to run last month by the Guardian Council, a vetting body made up of clerics and jurists. The slate of eight men is dominated by hardliners and conservatives close to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rohani was the Iranian nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005, and during his first television appearance of the campaign he rejected accusations that he had been too soft in negotiations with world powers.

During his tenure as nuclear negotiator, Rohani oversaw an agreement to suspend Iran's fledgling uranium enrichment-related activities.

Iran has since stepped up the nuclear program that many countries, particularly in the West, fear is aimed at acquiring weapons capability, something Tehran denies.

Hardliners see the nuclear program as a sign of national pride and any concession to outside pressure an affront to Iran's sovereign rights. The current nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, is running for president on his record of giving no ground in talks.

Western powers are watching the June 14 election to see whether President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's successor will set a new tone in talks - several rounds of which in the last year have failed to defuse tensions over the nuclear program which Israel has said it could use military force to stop.

In a spirited exchange on state television, Rohani said allegations he had halted nuclear development were "a lie" and suggested his interviewer was "illiterate".

"It's good if you study history," a smiling Rohani, dressed in the traditional clerical garb, told the besuited interviewer. "We suspended it? We mastered the (nuclear) technology!" The 64-year-old argued the Islamic Republic had expanded uranium enrichment during his tenure while demonstrating the program's peaceful nature and preventing a US military attack.

"We didn't allow Iran to be attacked," he said, referring to the US military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"They (the US) imagined tomorrow or the day after, it would be Iran's turn."

Nuclear policy is ultimately decided by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and all candidates emphasize Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy and deny that it plans to build nuclear weapons.

Analysts say voters are more likely to decide on candidates based on how they would reinvigorate an economy suffering from high unemployment and inflation.

But the nuclear issue has been "used to discredit rivals" in the early days of the campaign, said Dina Esfandiary, an Iran analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Jalili's camp is trading on its hardline attitude to the nuclear program. In the last five years, Jalili, seen as rigidly devoted to Iran's Islamic revolutionary ideals, has overseen a hardening stance in talks with world powers.

"Our national interests and security were tarnished and hurt," said Ali Bagheri, Iran's deputy nuclear negotiator who is supporting Jalili's campaign, in a recent speech, referring to Rohani's tenure under reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

Several rounds of nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers have failed to reach an agreement.

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