Former Iranian

president dies

(TNS) — Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president whose support for social freedoms and outreach to the United States made him a powerful ally of moderates despite allegations of corruption and authoritarianism, died Sunday.

The cause was a heart attack, state news media reported.

Iran declared three days of mourning for one of its most significant political figures, whose backing helped moderate President Hassan Rouhani win election in 2013, setting the Islamic Republic on a path to ending its disputed nuclear program and easing its isolation from the West.

A former aide to Iran’s revolutionary supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Rafsanjani’s pragmatic views on foreign economic investment and cultural issues set him apart from much of the theocracy’s conservative establishment.

Although his influence had waned in the two decades since his presidency, he was a political survivor and behind-the-scenes ally of moderate and reformist forces agitating for looser political and social controls. He called for the release of dissidents and sharply criticized the anti-West former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who left office in 2013.

That year, after Iran’s conservative election body barred the Rafsanjani from seeking the presidency, he threw his support behind Rouhani, seen as a much friendlier face to the West than Ahmadinejad. After Rouhani’s election, Rafsanjani was reported to have said, “Now I can die peacefully.”

Rafsanjani’s death, five months before Rouhani is due to face re-election, was a blow to moderates who are facing growing criticism for Iran’s continuing economic struggles.

Under Rouhani, Iran signed an agreement with world powers to shelve its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of many Western economic sanctions. The deal has not brought significant foreign investment or reduced unemployment, strengthening hard-liners who opposed accomodations with the West and possibly threatening Rouhani’s chances at a second term.

— Los Angeles Times