U.S. calls on Iran's president to cut terror ties

Dubai/Beirut: President Hassan Rouhani has an unbeatable lead in Iran's presidential election, an Iranian official source told Reuters on Saturday, citing an early unofficial tally, and is set to defeat his hardline rival Ebrahim Raisi and win a second term.

The re-election is likely to safeguard the nuclear agreement Rouhani's government reached with global powers in 2015, under which most worldwide sanctions have been lifted in return for Iran curbing its nuclear programme. More than 41 million, or 73% of 56 million eligible voters, cast ballots.

Rouhani, a moderate, was a key architect of the 2015 nuclear deal with the world powers in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei symbolically cast the election's first vote and called on Iranians to turn out in huge numbers for the poll.

"I respect the outcome of the vote of the people and the result will be respected by me and all the people", Raisi said after voting, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Worldwide affairs researcher Foad Izadi, of Tehran University, said Rouhani may now have the leverage to push for more freedoms, including the release of opposition leaders under house arrest for their part in the 2009 protests.

When he was swept to office four years ago with three times as many votes as his nearest challenger, Iranians held high hopes that he could fulfil his promises to reduce the country's isolation overseas and bring more freedoms at home.

In the campaign trail, Rouhani sought to frame the vote as a choice between greater civil liberties and "extremism", criticising the continued arrest of reformist leaders and activists.

Iran's state television congratulated Rouhani for winning the election.

Even so, many other global firms remain hesitant to re-enter the Iranian market for fear of changing political winds that may usher in new sanctions, jeopardizing their profits and any nascent ventures. Rouhani's win gives reformists a chance to build clout in the body that chooses the leader, the Assembly of Experts, where neither reformists nor conservatives dominate.

The final results are expected later Saturday.

"Already last night we had the feeling we were heading for a landslide, and it came true", said Farid Dehdilani, an adviser for the Iranian Privatisation Organisation, who worked on Rouhani's campaign.

"Rouhani will face more pressure in his second term". She said she spent more than three hours outside waiting to vote, "but it was worth it".

In 2013, Rouhani won the presidential election with almost 51 percent of the vote.

But ultimate power in the country rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has held the title since 1989.

Ahmadi says the initial vote count has the moderate cleric Rouhani with 14.6 million votes.

Speaking in Riyadh at a joint briefing with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir Saturday, Tillerson said he has no plans to talk to Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

He must also deal with an unpredictable and hawkish Trump administration that only reluctantly signed the sanctions waivers that are a central element of the nuclear agreement.

  • Leroy Wright