LONDON Iran's supreme leader called on presidential candidates on Tuesday to champion economic self-sufficiency, further distancing himself from Hassan Rouhani's policy of opening to the West and seeking foreign investment.
Allies of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who aim to reclaim the presidency for their hardline faction, hope voters will punish the pragmatist President Rouhani for the slow pace of economic recovery despite the lifting of sanctions under a nuclear deal, the hallmark of his first term.
"The candidates should promise to focus on national capabilities and domestic capacities to resolve the economic issues ... rather than looking abroad," Khamenei was quoted as saying by state TV as saying on Monday.
Rouhani's main hardline rival in the May 19 election, influential cleric Ebrahim Raisi, has promised to create over 1.5 million jobs a year if elected. Another candidate, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, has promised to create 5 million jobs per year.
"We should bring manufacturing enterprises back to production ... and for this we do not need to look to foreigners," Raisi, a close ally of Khamenei, said in the city of Birjand.
Most sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme were lifted in 2016 under a deal with six major powers, including the United States, in 2015.
Despite that, the world's top banks have refrained from doing business with Iran due to fears of being penalized by remaining U.S. sanctions unrelated to the nuclear issue, slowing efforts to rebuild foreign trade and lure investment.
Although inflation dropped to single digits and real GDP grew by as much as 7.4 percent, the IMF reported in February that growth in the non-oil sector averaged just 0.9 percent, "reflecting continued difficulties in access to finance".
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)