Iran clerics back Velayati for president: Report

AFP , Sunday 9 Jun 2013

Conservative clerical group endorses Khamenei's senior foreign policy adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, for 14 June elections

Conservative former Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, shows his inked finger to media as he registers his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election, at the election headquarters of the interior ministry in Tehran, Iran (Photo: AP)

A leading Iranian conservative clerical group has endorsed veteran diplomat Ali Akbar Velayati to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 14 June presidential election, a media report said on Sunday.

The Mehr news agency said a majority of members of the Qom Seminary Scholars Association at a meeting on Saturday gave their support to Velayati, quoting group chief Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, a former conservative head of the judiciary.

The association is one of the two leading conservative clerical groups in the holy city of Qom.

The other, the Combatant Clerics Association, has yet to endorse one of the eight presidential candidates approved by the hardline electoral watchdog Guardians Council.

Velayati, a former foreign minister for 16 years, is currently senior foreign policy adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all key issues in the Islamic republic.

He pledges to repair strained relations with the international community if elected, and to shore up the struggling economy against Western economic sanctions imposed over Tehran's disputed nuclear drive.

Considered a frontrunner in the presidential race, Velayati faces stiff competition from a number of candidates, including Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.

In a live televised debate on Friday, Velayati criticised Jalili's failure to make progress in talks with world powers on Iran's atomic programme.

"The current negotiations that are under way are definitely flawed," said Velayati, who says his diplomatic record will allow him to resolve the nuclear issue, by removing the sanctions and preserving Iran's nuclear "rights".

Khamenei warned on Tuesday that the next president should avoid making concessions to the West. But he also insisted he will not throw his weight behind any candidate.

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