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Iran presidential candidates distance themselves from Ahmadinejad

Iranian presidential hopeful, Ali Akbar Velayati, adviser to

Iranian presidential hopeful, Ali Akbar Velayati, adviser to the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, stands next to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Mehrabad airport, in Tehran, Iran. (May 9, 2011) Credit: AP

TEHRAN, Iran - For eight years, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has played the role of global provocateur-in-chief: questioning the Holocaust, saying Israel should be erased from the map and painting UN resolutions as worthless. His provocative style grated inside Iran as well -- angering the country's supreme leader to the point of warning the presidency could be abolished.

Now, a race is beginning to choose his successor and it looks like an anti-Ahmadinejad referendum is shaping up. Candidate registration starts Tuesday for the June 14 vote.

Leading candidates assert that they will be responsible stewards, unlike the firebrand Ahmadinejad, who cannot run again because he is limited to two terms. One criticized Ahmadinejad for "controversial but useless" statements. Others even say the country should have a less hostile relationship with the United States.

Comments from the presumed front-runners lean toward less bombast and more diplomacy. They are apparently backed by a leadership that wants to rehabilitate Iran's renegade image and possibly stabilize relations with the West.

The result however may be more a new tone rather than sweeping policy change.

Under Iran's theocratic system, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wields supreme power, making final decisions on nuclear and military questions. However, the president acts as the public face of the country and a new president might embark on an international image makeover.

Nuclear talks between Iran and world powers are at an impasse while the Islamic Republic barrels ahead with a uranium enrichment program that many are convinced is intended for atomic weapons. Iran also serves as the key ally of Syria's President Bashar Assad.

-- AP

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