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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iran's Former President Picked to Head Assembly of Experts

TEHRAN, Iran -- Clerics picked Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Tuesday to lead a powerful Iranian government body, in a boost for the former president who wants better ties with the West and a blow to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rafsanjani's victory over a hard-line rival to become speaker of the Assembly of Experts is a further step in his political recovery at the expense of Ahmadinejad, a vociferous critic of the West who beat the pragmatic, midranking cleric in the 2005 presidential race, analysts said.

But the change will not herald a shift in Iran's foreign or nuclear policy, nor would it have a big impact on the assembly's tendency to stay clear of day-to-day politics, analysts added.

The assembly is an 86-seat body with the power to appoint, supervise and even dismiss the country's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The body has not exercised the power to dismiss the supreme leader and is not believed to have intervened directly in policymaking.

The clerics met to replace Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, who died in July.

"[Rafsanjani] was elected as the head of the Assembly of Experts," assembly spokesman Hossein Habibzadeh said.

Rafsanjani, president in the 1990s, has increasingly sided with pro-reform politicians opposed to Ahmadinejad. In the speaker contest, he beat Ayatollah Jannati, head of the Guardian Council, an oversight body reformists blame for blocking many of their candidates in presidential and parliamentary elections.

Rafsanjani won 41 votes to Jannati's 34, Iranian media said.

"It means to hard-liners, like Jannati and Ahmadinejad, that [Rafsanjani] is not somebody they can sideline easily. He is going to play a role in the leadership of the country, and they have to come to terms with that," one political analyst said.