Rafsanjani pledges ‘interactive’ diplomacy

TEHRAN (AFP) — Leading Iranian presidential candidate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani released his election manifesto on Monday, promising a “interactive and constructive diplomacy” but without mentioning relations with the United States.
In a 24-page “pact with the people,” the top cleric also vowed to “effectively” defend human rights, improve freedom of speech, boost the role of women in public life, solve unemployment, press on with privatisations and lure more foreign investors.

The presidential election takes place on June 17.

Rafsanjani, seen as a pragmatic conservative who favours improved ties with the outside world, said that “the foreign policy of the government must be founded on an “active, interactive and constructive diplomacy.”

But conspicuously absent from the lengthy text was any reference to the United States — with whom relations have been cut since 1980.

The issue of ties with the United States remains highly contentious, and is in principle a matter that can only be decided upon by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Although Khamenei is seen as resisting any thaw in relations with Washington, there has been mounting speculation that Ayatollah Rafsanjani — who has gained a reputation of being a savvy deal maker — may be prepared to address the subject if he wins.

Rafsanjani’s only other comment on the future of Iran’s relations with the West was that he intended to “develop political and economic relations with industrialised countries and use their technology and capital to the best of our common interests.”

Reaching out to Iran’s women, Rafsanjani — who has already served as Iran’s president from 1989 to 1997 — promised to “increase the role of women in national decision making.”

Regarding individual rights, he pledged to “prevent the government from intervening in private life,” “protect individual and public rights,” “reinforce freedom of expression by improving the status of the press within the constitution” and “effectively defend human rights and freedoms that are enshrined in the constitution.”

In seeking a comeback as the regime’s number-two, Rafsanjani has been attempting to seize the Islamic republic’s largely vacant political centre — therefore hoping to beat off the other hardline right-wing or reformist challengers.

But like his public declarations to date — as well as the campaign pledges of other candidates — the Rafsanjani manifesto was long on thematics and promises, but short on policy specifics.

Rafsanjani said that he also wanted to “solve the unemployment problem,” “control inflation and raise the purchasing power of Iranians,” bring in foreign investment and liberalise and privatise parts of the state-dominated economy.

Improving social security was also mentioned.

Campaigning for the election is already under way, with informal opinion polls in the national press — to be taken with a pinch of salt — putting Rafsanjani ahead.

The hardline candidates are Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Ali Larijani, Mahmud Ahmadi Nejad and Mohsen Rezai — all veterans of the hardline Revolutionary Guards — plus moderate former parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi.

Qalibaf, a populist former national police chief, has been tipped as running a distant second behind Rafsanjani.

Representing the embattled reformist camp and facing a possible voter backlash are the leftist former higher education minister Mostafa Moin, centrist cleric Mehdi Karoubi and incumbent vice president Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh.

Moin is seen as the reformist with the best chances, although it remains to be seen if he can draw on the support of pro-reform voters — many of whom are disenchanted — who put outgoing President Mohammad Khatami into power.

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