He is loyal to the establishment.

"But if he loses to the incumbent, who has no rivals in his own camp and has remarkable executive credentials, Raisi's future rise to the peak will be in question", said Vaez.

Ardavan Amir-Aslani, a French-Iranian lawyer who advises European companies setting up in Iran, said he would be surprised if Rouhani does not win re-election despite the economic malaise.

Thus, the leadership question in Iran is about more than the presidency and the other governing bodies, particularly since the death on January 8, at age 84, of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Chairman of the powerful Expediency Discernment Council.

Raisi, 56, visited the interior ministry later on Friday to register for the 12th presidential election.

Rouhani, who won election by a landslide in 2013, faces a tougher than expected battle for a second term on May 19 as criticism mounts over the continued stagnation of the economy.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L), U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (2nd L), Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation Ali Akbar Salehi (2nd R) and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (R) wait with others ahead of a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne on March 26, 2015. "However he has no choice but to play such a role", he said. In 2006, he was elected to the Assembly of Experts that has powers to choose the next supreme leader, and now sits on its board of directors.

"He will go until the end", Javanfekr said.

The upcoming vote will be seen, among other things, as a referendum on the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, under which Iran agreed to curb its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of global sanctions.

"No one during the history advocated aggression and war; despite this very fact, the history witnessed conflict, bloodshed, tyranny, and confrontation of the righteous and the forces of the darkness", Rouhani told the meeting.

In the ceremony, held at Iran Helicopter Support and Renewal Company (IHSRC) in Tehran, President Rouhani unveiled Kowsar, the country's first jet aircraft used for training.

But insiders said disqualifying a sitting president might be very costly for the establishment, especially given a hostile USA administration in Washington.

Also on Friday Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had earlier announced plans to run promising to fight poverty and corruption, registered to run in the presidential elections. As successor to the mild-mannered reformist Mohammad Khatami, he toed a strident line on Israel and the US, refusing to meaningfully negotiate with the West over Iran's nuclear programme despite crippling economic sanctions.

Iran has managed to sign a string of multibillion-dollar civilian aircraft deals since sanctions were lifted, but many ordinary Iranians are still waiting on hoped-for economic benefits of the nuclear agreement to trickle down.


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