TEHRAN // Iran's reformist former president Mohammad Khatami said he had withdrawn his candidacy for the June presidential election and would back another moderate candidate, Iranian media reported. Analysts had seen Mr Khatami as President Mohammad Ahmadinejad's main pro-reform challenger. "I announce my withdrawal from candidacy," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Mr Khatami as saying in a statement.
Mr Khatami said he would support the former prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi in the presidential contest. "I believe that Mr Mousavi has the necessary competence to change the current situation," said Mr Khatami. "Despite differences in our opinions and actions, the important thing is that (Mr Mousavi) seriously defends and will defend the fundamental rights and freedoms (of people) and the country's international reputation."
First word of Mr Khatami's intentions emerged from allies on Monday. The outcome of the June election could influence Iran's approach in its standoff with the West over its nuclear programme, even though the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on such issues. Mr Khatami, who served from 1997 to 2005, oversaw a thaw in Iran's ties with the West. Those relations have since sharply deteriorated under Mr Ahmadinejad, who is expected to seek a second four-year term in the June 12 vote.