Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and a close aide to outgoing President Mahmud Ahmadinejad have reportedly been barred from running in Iran's presidential election next month.
Iranian media reported on May 21 that Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei were disqualified by Iran's Guardians Council.
No explanation was given for the exclusions, either by the Guardians Council or the Interior Ministry. The Guardians Council is an unelected body of clerics and jurists.
The list of approved candidates for the June 14 election is dominated by hard-line conservatives, including Iran's main nuclear negotiator, Said Jalili, and former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati.
Only eight out of the 686 potential candidates who had registered to run were approved.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell urged the Tehran authorities to give Iranians a free vote.
"The council narrowed the list of almost 700 potential candidates down to eight officials based solely on who the regime believes will represent its interests, rather than those of the Iranian people," Ventrell said.
Earlier reports had said hard-line lawmakers had petitioned authorities to bar Rafsanjani and Mashaei from the vote.
The candidacies of Mashaei and Rafsanjani, a moderate conservative backed by reformists, presented a challenge to conservative front-runners loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Ahmadinejad, constitutionally barred from running for a third term in office, had backed Mashaei despite disapproval from Khamenei.
Ultraconservatives had denounced Mashaei as part of a "deviant current" opposing Islamic rule.
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, AP, and the BBC