Thursday, May 12, 2005 / News / World / Middle East / Rafsanjani seeks to lead Iran again / News / World / Middle East / Rafsanjani seeks to lead Iran again: "Rafsanjani seeks to lead Iran again
By Paul Hughes, Reuters | May 11, 2005

TEHRAN -- Iranian powerbroker Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who favors improved ties with the West, yesterday finally plunged into the presidential election race that opinion polls suggest he is favorite to win.

Raising the stakes ahead of the June 17 vote, a senior official said Tehran had decided to resume some weapons-related nuclear work very soon, a move the United States and the European Union have said would see Iran's case sent to the UN Security Council.

Rafsanjani, 70, is favored in opinion polls to win the election to replace outgoing reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami, who is barred from seeking a third consecutive term.

Rafsanjani had dithered for several weeks over whether to stand for the job he held from 1989 to 1997.

''Despite my prior doubts, today, based on necessity, I again announce my readiness to enter the executive field and I put myself at your disposal," Rafsanjani said in a five-page statement addressed to the Iranian people.

He described the decision to run as the most difficult in a political career spanning more than half a century.

Close Rafsanjani ally Mohammad Atrianfar said the former president had faced resistance to his candidacy from ''extremists," a reference to Islamic hardliners.

But he denied earlier comments reported by Reuters that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei opposed a Rafsanjani bid.

Iran, which rejects US charges that it is seeking nuclear arms, said it will resume processing uranium into a gas that can be used to make fuel for either atomic reactors or atom bombs.

It said the decision was due to frustration with the slow pace of its talks with the EU over the long-term future of its nuclear program.

Diplomats were unsure whether the move, which would reverse a six-month freeze on most of Iran's atomic work, was a bluff.

''It would seem remarkable that they could be sitting in the Security Council at the same time as the elections, but they look like they're serious," said one Western diplomat in Tehran.

Iran denies any linkage between the elections and the nuclear issue. ''Decisions in line with our national interests have nothing to do with the elections," said Ali Aghamohammadi, head of the Propaganda Office at Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

Candidates have until Saturday to register for the vote."