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Iran's Khatami Signals Presidential Plans

Mir Hossein Musavai (left) with with Mohammad Khatami
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Former President Mohammad Khatami has given the strongest signal so far that he will run in Iran's June presidential election, telling supporters he should "fulfill my promises" about announcing his candidacy.

Khatami, who served from 1997 to 2005, oversaw a thawing in Iran's ties with the West. Those relations have since sharply deteriorated under President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who an aide said last week was seeking a second four-year term.

"I should fulfill my promises made to [Iran's] people and announce my readiness [to run] despite my personal wish," Khatami told youth groups. His remarks were sent to Reuters on February 4.

A close Khatami ally, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, told Reuters on February 4 that the former president would make an official announcement about his candidacy in the coming days.

The moderate former president previously said he was considering whether to run and has said either he or another pro-reform politician, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi, will run.

"Sometimes a human being has to make decisions that are against his will," he said, echoing his teary declaration in 2001 when Khatami said he would seek a second term despite his personal reluctance.

U.S. President Barack Obama has offered a new approach to Iran, which has not had relations with Washington for three decades, saying he would extend a hand of peace if the Islamic republic "unclenched its fist."

Diplomats have said it is a rare opportunity to end a rift that began with the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Reform And Freedom

Any decision on relations with Washington will ultimately be made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in policy and who has publicly supported the work of Ahmadinejad and his government.

But Khamenei tends to seek consensus among Iran's ruling elite, analysts say, and the election result could influence the direction of any debate in Iran.

If he declares, Khatami will also compete against another pro-reform candidate, Mehdi Karrubi, a former parliament speaker who failed in his 2005 presidential bid.

"Mr. Karrubi and I have many common points and we both want improvement for Iran and the Iranian nation. I believe neither of us will stand in each other's way," Khatami said.

Khatami secured votes with promises of political and social change. But many of his reforms were blocked by conservatives, who controlled many levers of power, disappointing supporters such as student activists who said he should have done more stand up to the establishment.

"We deeply believe in reforms.... We want to develop Iran.... We want freedom in every field to be respected," he said.