Iranian moderate candidate: 'Positive coexistence' may yield talks with US

FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Abdolnaser Hemmati speaks with journalists before the start of the last election debate, in Tehran
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DUBAI (Reuters) -Leading Iranian moderate presidential candidate Abdolnaser Hemmati said on Tuesday Iran could hold talks with longtime arch-foe the United States if Washington adhered to "positive coexistence" with Tehran.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all matters of state in Iran, has repeatedly ruled out negotiations with the United States, with which it has had no diplomatic relations since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.

But Tehran has been holding indirect talks on reviving its 2015 nuclear deal with the United States and world powers that was abandoned by Washington in 2018.

"We have to see how America acts on the nuclear deal..., then we have to see whether America wants to continue its meddling in the region through Israel and its elements," Hemmati, a former central bank chief, told a news conference ahead of the Friday election.

"There is a chain of issues in need of confidence-building...If we really feel that America moves towards a positive coexistence to advance world and regional peace, then there should be no problem to hold talks," Hemmati said in remarks carried by the semi-official Fars news agency.

Hemmati, who faces a field of five hardliners and a moderate who have been allowed to run by a hardline-led election watchdog, has had limited success in gaining support from reformists amid calls to boycott the vote.

Opposition leader Mehdi Karoubi, a cleric under house arrest since 2011, has said he will vote for Hemmati, Iranian news agencies quoted Karoubi's son as saying on Tuesday.

But Karoubi's ally Mirhossein Mousavi, also under house arrest since 2011, has joined the boycott called by dissidents both at home and abroad.

Last month, the Islamic Republic's hardline Guardian Council approved just seven presidential hopefuls to stand in the election and disqualified several prominent candidates.

The decision boosted the prospects of hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, a Khamenei ally, but may dim the clerical rulers' hopes of a high turnout amid alienation and discontent over an economy crippled by U.S. sanctions.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accused Iran of stepping up pressure on journalists, including foreign reporters, in the election run-up in a way that made it impossible to "talk of a democratic process".

"The regime (has) imposed censorship on all the media, it is preventing them from covering the election freely, and it is using summonses and interrogations to threaten journalists and citizen-journalists," RSF said in a statement.

RSF said a range of restrictions imposed on journalists included making negative or critical comments about the election, or criticising Raisi himself, while Iran had censored newspapers and filtered news websites and social media.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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