Iran's former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati will probably be Iranian conservative's candidate against reformist President Mohammad Khatami in next year's presidential elections, Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani said Sunday in press reports.
"The political factions of the country have already started with their political campaigns, and you will notice Velayati's absence in different programs of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting" television, Mohajerani said, as quoted by the Iran News.
Mohajerani, who is close to Khatami, also said Velayati's recent visits to Syria and Lebanon were "highly suggestive."
"It goes without saying that that our friends (the conservative faction) have started with the presidential election campaigns," Mohajerani said, assuring that Khatami will remain "faithful" to his reform programs.
Mohajerani's comments come just four days after Khatami announced that he will be seeking a second term in office in next year's election and "plans to firmly defend his reforms."
"I will take part in the election and will present my points of view that I will put to the vote of the people," the head of state said during a meeting with the deans of universities and heads of research centres in Tehran.
"I will stand with even more developed reform plans," he said.
Velayati, 55, who is now the foreign affairs adviser of Iranian spiritual guide Ayatollah Ali Khameini, was Iran's foreign minister for 14 years.
During the 1997 presidential elections, the former foreign minister took the side of Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, the former head of Iran's parliament and Khatami's main conservative rival.
Khatami was elected with 20 million votes, some 69 percent of votes cast.
In line with the Iranian constitution, a president of the republic can only serve two successive four-year terms.
On Saturday, the newspaper Ressalat, which speaks for Iran's conservatives, termed Khatami's re-election announcement "premature." - TEHRAN (AFP)
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