Iran's supreme leader has called on presidential candidates to focus on making the economy grow without help from the West, distancing himself from President Hassan Rohani's policy of promoting growth through foreign trade and investment.
"The candidates should promise to focus on national capabilities and domestic capacities to resolve the economic issues...rather than looking abroad," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said at a meeting with ambassadors from Muslim states in Tehran on April 25.
The countries of the West "fight against the Islamic Republic of Iran [because Islam] blocks their interests," he said.
Hard-line allies of Khamenei hope to reclaim the presidency by blaming pragmatist Rohani for the slow pace of economic recovery despite the lifting of most Western economic sanctions under his nuclear deal with world powers.
Although inflation dropped to single digits and the economy grew by as much as 7.4 percent since the deal was signed in 2015,the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that growth in sectors where most Iranians work -- outside the oil industry -- averaged just 0.9 percent.
Rohani has sought to promote growth through foreign investment in Iran, modernizing Iranian industries and spurring expanded trade with other countries. But Rohani's rivals are seeking to exploit voter anxiety over the sluggishness of the economy outside the oil sector.
Rohani's main hard-line 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 as he campaigned in the city of Birjand.
The IMF said in February that the economy's sluggishness outside the oil sector "reflects continued difficulties in access to finance," likely reflecting the impact of U.S. prohibitions against using the U.S. dollar and U.S. banks in business deals with Iran.
While most sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program were lifted last year, the world's top banks have refrained from doing business with Iran out of fear of being penalized by those remaining U.S. sanctions, which are aimed at punishing Iran for its testing of ballistic missiles and human rights abuses and are unrelated to the nuclear agreement.