* Little known at home, most moderate contender so far
* Rohani worked under Rafsanjani and reformist Khatami
* Not radical enough to be banned from running - analyst
By Marcus George
DUBAI, April 11 A former Iranian nuclear
negotiator announced on Thursday he would run for president, the
most moderate contender so far to bid to succeed Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad in a June election dominated by conservatives.
Hassan Rohani, 64, was head of the powerful Supreme National
Security Council under presidents Ali Akbar Rafsanjani,
considered a master of realpolitik rather than an ideologue, and
Mohammad Khatami, who pushed for wide-ranging social and
Rohani, a Muslim cleric, presided over talks with Britain,
France and Germany that saw Iran agree to suspend uranium
enrichment-related activities between 2003 and 2005.
He resigned after Ahmadinejad took office in August that
year. The nuclear work was resumed and Rohani was derided for
being too accommodating in negotiations.
During Ahmadinejad's two terms in office, tensions with the
West over Iran's nuclear programme have worsened, with the
United States and Europe imposing sanctions on its oil and banks
over suspicions Tehran is seeking atomic arms, which it denies.
"We need a new management for the country but not based on
quarrelling, inconsistency and eroding domestic capacity, but
through unity, consensus and attracting honest and efficient
people," Rohani told a gathering of supporters on Thursday,
Iran's Mehr news agency reported.
The June election is Iran's first presidential poll since
2009 when mass street protests erupted against Ahmadinejad's
The defeated reformist candidates in that election,
Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who became figureheads for
the "Green movement" - which mounted Iran's biggest street
protests since the Islamic revolution in 1979 - have been under
house arrest for more than two years.
It is unclear whether the Guardian Council, a state body
that can veto candidates, will allow reformists to run, but
barring too many contenders risks destroying public interest in
a vote which bolsters Iran's claims to democratic legitimacy.
A former Western ambassador to Iran who had dealings with
Rohani during the Khatami administration described him as
"approachable and no-nonsense," likely to be "a calm, orthodox,
efficient and straightforward servant ... and less a charismatic
or an independent figure".
With nuclear policy directed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei rather than the president, the election is not likely
to produce any tangible policy shift there.
"My government will be one of prudence and hope and my
message is about saving the economy, reviving ethics and
interaction with the world," Rohani said in a critique of
Ahmadinejad's economic record.
"Inflation is above 30 percent, the reduction in the value
of the national currency, unemployment and zero economic growth
are among the country's problems."
While Rafsanjani was not present for the announcement, his
son and daughter, Yasser and Fatemeh Hashemi, attended the
event, an apparent indication of the former president's support
for Rohani, his long-serving protege.
Also attending Rohani's announcement was Mahmoud Alavi, a
member of Iran's Assembly of Experts, the body responsible for
overseeing the actions of supreme leader Khamenei - indicating
he has some status inside Iran's establishment.
Hooman Majd, a New York-based Iranian-American journalist
and author, said Rohani - head of an Iranian think-tank, the
Centre for Strategic Research - might attract some voters
looking for change, without being radical enough to risk being
"Rohani has been a loyal soldier of Khamenei and is not
considered a threat to the system. I think it would be too much
for the Guardian Council to disqualify someone like that," Majd
"Rohani's not a personality people know very well but he
could be viable with support from the Rafsanjani camp and a
modern youthful campaign."
Khamenei's close advisers plan to put forward their own
candidate, hoping to minimise the chances of the next president
mounting challenges to the leader's authority, as they accuse
Ahmadinejad of doing, especially during his second term.
Khamenei loyalists accuse Ahmadinejad of trying to erode the
influence of the clergy and the supreme leader and fear he will
try to extend his political influence after his final term ends
in June by helping a close ally win the election.
The most likely candidate from the Ahmadinejad camp is his
former chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, but there has
been no official word so far on whether he will try to run.