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Although Mohammad Khatami has decided against running for the Iranian presidency, it seems that incumbent Mahmud Ahmadinejad is still treating his predecessor as one of his rivals in the race.

The president told Iran's state radio that Khatami’s 2005 visit to France was one of the saddest days of his life, because Khatami "had to climb several flights of stairs" in the Elysee Palace to reach Jacque Chirac, the then French president.

Ahmadinejad said he found it “insulting” to Iranians.

Khatami fought back, writing in the "Hayate Nou" daily, saying that the real insult was thrown during Ahmadinejad’s trip to Columbia University in New York in 2007, when Ahmadinejad was introduced to the audience as a “cruel and petty dictator.”

As for the Elysee Palace incident, Khatami wrote that actually Chirac had descended a few flights of stairs -- breaching official protocol -- to greet him.

Now the ball is back in Ahmadinejad’s court.

Perhaps his initial attack wasn’t directed at Khatami at all -- after all the president never actually mentioned Khatami’s name.

Ahmadinejad’s real target might have been his reformist rival Mir Hossein Musavi, who Ahmadinejad has repeatedly accused of serving the West’s interests.

The "Qalam" newspaper, which is close to Musavi, recently published photos of Khatami and Chirac at the Elysee Palace.

While the politicians are exchanging blows, many ordinary Iranians are watching the election race closely.

“Everything has become much greener here,” said "Tahmtan" in a comment on RFE/RL's Radio Farda's Facebook page. (Green is the color of Musavi’s campaign.)

“Our region is naturally green, but I think the votes of people in rural areas have been bought... As for me, I am not going to vote.”

Dariush, a young Iranian voter, wrote that “Hossein Musavi’s chances are increasing every day. And I’m sure he is going to win the election.”

The problem for many Iranians is that they feel skeptical about the president's ability to bring about real changes.

After all, they say again and again, it is the supreme leader who has the final word.

“Even if Musavi wins the election," Ali wrote on Radio Farda's Facebook page, "he would have to listen to the supreme leader. Problems would arise if he doesn’t.”

-- Farangis Najibullah

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