By Mick Krever, CNN
Iran holds presidential elections on June 14, and Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, is hoping to get the top job; he appears to have the support of Ayatollah Khamenei.
In a country with an ayatollah, it’s nice to be a favorite.
The Ayatollah is hoping for a smoother election that in 2009, when the country erupted into protests among allegations that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the election fraudulently.
Scores of reformists and activists have been arrested ahead of next month’s vote, but it the last-minute entry of two more major candidates that may have the biggest effect on the race.
Former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who very publically supported the 2009 election protests, threw his hat in the presidential ring last week.
And Ahmadinejad’s hand-picked successor, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, is contesting the race. Ahmadinejad, who is term-limited and cannot run again, has fallen out of favor with the Ayatollah in his second term; so too has protégé, Mashaei.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday, Jalili seemed unfazed by his new competition.
“Iran is a democratic, religious system of government,” he said through an interpreter. “The more participation we have, the stronger the system will be.”
Iran’s system of government requires that all presidential candidates be vetted by a Guardian Council before they can actually participate in a presidential election.
“I myself, or other candidates – all candidates for that matter – have to be vetted by the Guardian Council, and we have to abide by the letter of the law,” he said. “One of its duties is to determine the competency of would-be candidates.”
Ayatollah Khamenei’s public disagreements with Mashaei and Rafsanjani, Jalili said, will have no effect on the race.
“His Eminence does not prefer one candidate over another,” he said. “So we are going to, Inshallah, God willing, have a vibrant race.”
Before Jalili can concentrate on his desired new post, however, he must deal with the biggest issue facing Iran on the world stage: its nuclear program.
As chief nuclear negotiator, he is responsible for convincing the world that Iran’s nuclear program is purely for civilian purposes.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has always stressed that for peaceful purposes, we believe enrichment is our right,” he said.
Iran, as a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, does indeed have the right to the civilian use of nuclear energy.
According to Jalili, his country’s participation with the agency that is tasked with preventing the spread of nuclear weapons is extensive.
“The cooperation we have had with the agency, dare I say, is unprecedented and unique,” he told Amanpour. “Thousands of man-hours of inspections have been carried out and all the activities of Iran are under the monitoring supervision of the agencies.”
Iran will soon vote to replace a president who has taken a hard line in nuclear negotiations; how it votes, and what Jalili will do should he be elected, will have far-reaching implications for its economy, its place on the world-stage, and its people.