TEHRAN, Iran – Former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami said he may pull out of June's presidential race to avoid splitting the vote if another reformist candidate can pose a stronger challenge to the country's hard-line establishment.
Khatami told supporters late Sunday he believed another influential reformist candidate, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, has a better chance of overcoming resistance from Iran's ruling clerics.
A copy of his remarks was made available to The Associated Press on Monday.
Iran's reformers see a strong opportunity to unseat hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is seeking his second term but has lost popularity over his handling of the country's faltering economy and other issues.
Khatami, a liberal cleric who was president in 1997-2005, has said in the past that he and Mousavi will not compete against each other.
The candidacy of Mousavi, announced last week, could pose a serious challenge to Ahmadinejad.
Khatami is the best known internationally among Iran's reformists, who favor improving ties with the West and loosening restrictions at home, and is also popular at home. But hard-liners strongly dislike him.
Mousavi, meanwhile, is remembered well by many Iranians for managing the country during the 1980-88 war with Iraq, and his revolutionary credentials also could help siphon votes away from Ahmadinejad's base in the June 12 elections.
"Rest assured that Mousavi will recruit a remarkable percentage of votes from the other side. I have reports that some conservatives will not vote for me and this guy (Ahmadinejad), but they would definitely vote for Mousavi," Khatami told supporters. He said that he and Mousavi share about 20 to 30 percent of the reformist vote.
Hasan Rasouli, one of Khatami's campaign managers, said the former president will decide by March 21 — the Iranian New Year — whether to leave the race. Another close Khatami ally, former reformist Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, said on his Web site that Khatami was expected to formally make his announcement later Monday.
Another reformist, former parliament speaker Mahdi Karroubi, has also announced his candidacy for the June election. He has repeatedly said he won't drop out regardless of who else is running, but his party was meeting Monday to assess the situation.