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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rival is Iran's new president

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sees his rival Hasan Rowhani elected as president of Iran. Is the political career of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over?

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaks during an annual rally commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Tehran, Iran, Sunday.

Vahid Salemi/AP

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Just weeks after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election victory in 2005, Iran's top nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani stepped down from the post after quarrelsome meetings with the new president.

The decision cemented Rowhani's reputation as a moderate who rejected Ahmadinejad's combative approach in world affairs in favor of the more nuanced philosophy of Ahmadinejad's leading political foe, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Rafsanjani was rejected by Iran's election guardians from Friday's presidential ballot. But for many reformists and liberals in Iran, the 64-year-old Rowhani is somewhat of a mirror image of the elder Rafsanjani by reflecting his outlook that Iran can maintain its nuclear program and ease tensions with the West at the same time.

Rowhani won a resounding first-round victory on Saturday.

"Rafsanjani was really the only choice to re-energize reformists," said Rasool Nafisi, an Iranian affairs analyst at Strayer University in Virginia. "Rowhani only got their support because he is seen as Rafsanjani's man and a vote for Rowhani was a vote for Rafsanjani."

This deep connection between the two men could give a Rowhani presidency a dual nature: Rowhani as the public face and Rafsanjani behind the scenes as its powerful godfather and protector.

Although all key policies such the nuclear program are directed by the ruling clerics, the alliance with Rafsanjani may give Rowhani more latitude to put his stamp on Iran's negotiation tactics with world powers after four rounds of talks since last year have failed to make any significant headway.

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