A look at Iran's presidential candidates

By The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran has announced the final list of candidates for next month's presidential race, which will largely serve as a referendum on the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

President Hassan Rouhani is widely seen as the front-runner, but could face tough competition from hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who is close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and popular among hard-liners. Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sought to run but was disqualified.

The following candidates were approved by the Guardian Council, which vets candidates for Iran's elections. Half of its 12 members are clerics appointed by Khamenei, who also makes all final decisions on major policies.

HASSAN ROUHANI

Rouhani, 68, is a moderate elected in 2013 on pledges of greater personal freedoms and improved relations with the West. His government negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Iran accept curbs on its nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling international sanctions.

Since the deal went into effect, Iran has doubled its oil exports and inked multi-billion-dollar aircraft deals with Boeing and Airbus. But critics of the deal say the economic benefits have yet to filter down to ordinary Iranians, creating an opening for Rouhani's hard-line rivals.

Early in his tenure, in 2013, he shared a phone call with then-President Barack Obama, the highest-level exchange between the two countries since Iran's 1979 revolution and the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis.

Rouhani has faced pushback from conservatives and hard-liners, who criticized the nuclear deal as giving too much away and who have blocked many of his Cabinet picks.

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EBRAHIM RAISI

Raisi, 56, is a hard-line cleric close to Khamenei who has vowed to combat poverty and corruption. He could pose the biggest challenge to Rouhani, especially if he can unify hard-liners.

Last year, Khamenei appointed Raisi as head of the Imam Reza charity foundation, which manages a vast conglomerate of businesses and endowments in Iran. Khamenei called Raisi a "trustworthy and highly experienced" person, causing many to wonder if he might also be a possible successor to the supreme leader himself.

Raisi, who is currently a law professor, previously served as attorney general and deputy judiciary chief. He is a member of the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body that will decide Khamenei's successor, and a prosecutor at a special court that tries clerics.

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ESHAQ JAHANGIRI

Jahangiri, 60, is a first vice president in Rouhani's government and a fellow moderate.

He was the minister of industries and mines from 1997 to 2005, under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, and before that served as governor of Isfahan Province.

He was close to the late and influential President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, as well as Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force. Soleimani has played a key role in Iran's efforts to bolster President Bashar Assad's forces in Syria and help neighboring Iraq combat the Islamic State group.

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MOSTAFA HASHEMITABA

Hashemitaba, who served as minister of industry in the 1980s, is a pro-reform figure who previously ran for president in 2001.

Both Jahangiri and Hashemitaba are expected to promote Rouhani. Their candidacies appear to be aimed at providing balance in the face of three hard-line and conservative candidates.

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MOHAMMAD BAGHER QALIBAF

Qalibaf, 55, the conservative mayor of Tehran, is running for president for the third time, having previously lost to Ahmadinejad in 2005 and Rouhani in 2013.

His candidacy could be marred by January's massive fire at the Plasco building, a historic high-rise in downtown Tehran. The fire caused the building to collapse and killed 26 people, including 16 firefighters.

Qalibaf was Iran's chief of police from 2000 to 2005 and commander of the Revolutionary Guard's air force from 1997 to 2000. He is also a pilot, certified to fly certain Airbus passenger planes.

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MOSTAFA MIRSALIM

Mirsalim, 69, was shot and wounded during the unrest leading up to the 1979 revolution. He went on to serve as deputy interior minister and police chief. He was the minister of culture for four years under Rafsanjani, a centrist who was president from 1989 to 1997.