Tehran's mayor drops out of Iran's presidential election to back hard-liner

Qalibaf's allies had argued that he had more recognition in the capital Tehran and among young voters, and offered a more coherent economic plan than some other conservative candidates.

In the last election in 2013, the former Revolutionary Guards commander and police chief came a distant second to Mr Rouhani with 16.5% of the vote.

Tehran's hardline mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, has withdrawn from Iran's presidential election. While Raisi has vowed to respect the 2015 nuclear deal that Rouhani secured to end Iran's economic isolation, a government led by him would likely alarm worldwide investors considering doing business in the Islamic Republic. For someone who served as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council for 16 years, Rouhani was well aware of what he was saying: Any negotiations concerning the broad list of U.S. sanctions on Iran, whether in regard to Iran's missiles program or human rights, will need Khamenei's permission to proceed. While the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions has alleviated pressure on Iran's struggling economy, many European firms remain fearful of investing in Iran due to the remaining USA sanctions, some of which threaten to punish third parties that violate them.

Karroubi, 80, and fellow reformist Mirhossein Mousavi ran for election in June 2009 and became figureheads for Iranians who staged mass protests after the vote they believed was rigged to bring back hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Raisi faces having to reach out to a wider conservative base in the next few days, Bassiri Tabrizi added, but noted that things are "definitely more hard for Rouhani now".

"I ask all my supporters around the country to use all their capacity to help my brother Raisi win the election", Qalibaf said in his statement. It would be better for Iran and the wider region if Rouhani won, if only because it would deprive hawks in Washington and Riyadh of a new excuse for even more aggressive policies.

Abrams notably doesn't have much to say about the nuclear deal with Iran. Iranian media have discussed him as a potential future successor to Khamenei, who turns 78 in July. Over one thousand people initially registered as potential candidates, only to be disqualified by the Supreme Leader Khamenei. In public, he wears the black turban of a "seyed" whose genealogy is said to lead back to the Prophet Mohammed.

Until recently, Raisi, a former prosecutor general of Iran, was a relatively unknown political figure outside the eastern province of Khorasan-Razavi, where he is still the custodian of Astan Quds Razavi, the wealthiest charity in the Muslim world and the organisation in charge of Iran's holiest shrine, the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad.

Foreign tradeThe government says it needs $50 billion a year in foreign capital to get the economy moving, but investors and global banks remain nervous about remaining USA sanctions and Iran's shady financial system.

  • Leroy Wright