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Ahmadinejad's challengers are backed by a coalition of prominent Muslim clerics and veteran Iranian politicians who oppose Ahmadinejad's policies both at home and abroad, turning this election into an unusually stark confrontation between two political factions with opposing views of the future of Iran.
Ahmadinejad's main challengers advocate better relations with the United States. They promise to ensure that Iran's nuclear program will have strictly peaceful purposes, and they say the Holocaust should not be an issue in Iranian politics.
"Ahmadinejad's comments on the Holocaust were a great service to Israel," Mehdi Karroubi, a cleric and the most outspoken opposition candidate, told a group of students in April. "What has happened that we now have to support Hitler?" he asked. "This is none of our business."
Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister who is backed mainly by Tehran's educated urban elite, has stressed that he would calm international opposition to Iran's nuclear program by providing guarantees -- which he has not specified -- that Iran will not turn its research on atomic energy into an effort to build nuclear weapons.
All the candidates, including Ahmadinejad, have pledged to continue Iran's efforts to enrich uranium, despite U.N. sanctions. All of them share hostility toward Israel. But the challengers say Iran should reach out to other nations and soften the tone of its foreign policy, which is largely set by the country's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. During a visit to Iran's Kurdish region this month, Khamenei urged voters not to support "pro-Western" candidates.