TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran's moderate former president Mohammad Khatami on March 16 withdrew his candidacy from the country's June presidential election, a close ally told Reuters.
"He has decided to withdraw...but he will back another moderate candidate who will be announced shortly in a statement by Khatami," the ally, who declined to be named, said.
The ally did not give a reason for the withdrawal nor did he name the politician who Khatami would back but the former president had a meeting with another moderate candidate, former prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi, on March 15.
Iranian news agencies Mehr and Fars as well as several pro-reformist websites were reporting the withdrawal, although none were quoting Khatami himself.
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 is expected to seek a second four-year term.
Ahmadinejad's critics say his fiery speeches against the West have exacerbated a dispute over Iran's nuclear program. They also accuse him of poor economic policies blamed for fuelling inflation and squandering windfall oil earnings.
Khatami swept to power in a landslide vote in 1997, beating a rival seen at the time as the establishment's candidate. He secured votes with promises of political and social change.
But conservatives, who still controlled many levers of power while Khatami was in office, blocked many of his reforms, disappointing supporters such as student activists who said he should have done more to stand up to the establishment.
Analysts have said the fate of the race could depend on whether Ahmadinejad retains the support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say in all matters of state and whose words could influence millions of loyalists.
Khamenei, who will also decide on any move to renew U.S. ties, has in recent months publicly praised Ahmadinejad.
with additional RFE/RL reporting