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Iran President Sees Message in Moderate's Win

Mideast: Outgoing leader says vote underscores 'new idea' that rest of regime must recognize. He denies it was a protest of hard-line Islamic policies.


TEHRAN — Responding to the landslide victory of a moderate cleric in the race to succeed him, Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani said Sunday that the vote was a message to the country's leadership that would not be ignored.

Rafsanjani said the overwhelming vote for former Culture Minister Mohammad Khatami showed the emergence of a "new idea" that must receive due attention from the rest of the government.

"All of the officials of the country are going to pay attention to this--within the framework of Islamic laws and the constitution," Rafsanjani pledged.

But he argued against interpretations that the vote was a protest of the hard-line Islamic government, saying that all of the candidates' campaigns had emphasized "maintenance of the framework and principles of the system."

Khatami, who surged to victory on a program promising greater freedoms and tolerance of different views, trounced his conservative opponent, Parliament Speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, the favorite of the country's religious establishment and much of the state's administrative apparatus.

In a statement quoted on Iranian television Sunday, Khatami said of his victory: "Iran has successfully passed another test, and a new era has begun in the shining history of the Islamic Republic."

"All forces, all thoughts, opinions and skills" are now needed to move forward, Khatami said in the statement, which was monitored by the British Broadcasting Corp.

In what could be a signal of an era of reforms to come, the still-powerful Rafsanjani promised that he will work to help Khatami carry out his program and will support any plans by the new president to allow women to serve as Cabinet ministers or in other high positions in the next government.

Rafsanjani also expressed hope that this year's presidential race will lead to the development of political parties, which he called "a requirement for good governance."

Draping himself comfortably in a throne-like chair and smiling during much of a two-hour news conference, the white-turbaned Rafsanjani appeared unperturbed and unsurprised by the results. "It seems that, since Mr. Khatami has presented a better program for the future, he has drawn most of the votes," he said.

He pointed out that Khatami had done a much better job of reaching out to young voters. In Iran, 75% of the 61.3 million people are under 25.

When a reporter suggested that voters appeared to want to lift Islamic strictures on personal conduct, such as the rule that women must be covered in public and the ban on social relationships between unmarried people of the opposite sex, Rafsanjani said he believes that most Iranians would oppose such "vicious demands."

Nevertheless, he hinted that there might be a possibility of relaxation by the next government. "Maybe some of the restrictions have been excessive," he said.

Alluding to a conservative bloc in parliament that had thwarted some of his own reform plans, Rafsanjani said he hopes that "petty factional problems will not have any negative impact" on the next government.

There were signs of rapid adjustment to the new political realities: The parliament, where about 200 of 270 deputies had backed Nateq-Nuri, on Sunday passed a resolution of full cooperation with Khatami.

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