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Iran's Khatami Warned About Possible Run For President

Khatami the candidate?
Khatami the candidate?
In a commentary on July 28, one of the most influential conservative newspapers in Tehran said that former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami would face serious obstacles if he mounted a bid for the presidency in next year's election.

"Kayhan" Managing Editor Hossein Shariatmadari wrote that if Khatami decided to run for president, he would be disqualified by the Guardians Council, a 12-member, hard-line body of clerics close to Iran's supreme leader that vets candidates for major offices.

Shariatmadari wrote that while in office, the reformist Khatami upset the country's religious leaders with his actions, notably his official trips to Europe and the United States.

Khatami, who served two terms from 1997 to 2005, has not announced if he will run for president.

However, he is viewed by many analysts as a potential candidate for Iran's reformist camp to challenge incumbent Mahmud Ahmadinejad or perhaps another hard-liner in the election.

The conservatives are trying to discourage such a serious contender as Khatami from entering the presidential race, says Rasul Nafeesi, an Iranian political analyst.

"I think Mr. Khatami has not made a final decision in regard [to running for president] and the opposite camp, by expressing all kinds of opinions, wants to make Khatami decide against [being a candidate] because Khatami is known to be a very sensitive person and he has a great deal of self-respect and wouldn't put his reputation at risk," Nafeesi tells RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

Nafeesi says many Iranians believe they lived better during Khatami's eight years in office because it was a time of "stability, a boosting of the economy, and security."

Can Khatami Bring Real Change?

Khatami has also been praised for giving more freedom to the media and to nongovernmental organizations.

Mansour Farhang, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at Bennington College in Vermont and Iran's first ambassador to the United Nations, says that although Iranians had some personal freedom during Khatami's presidency, the overall situation in Iran under Khatami was not radically different from the current state under Ahmadinejad.

Another main difference between Khatami and Ahmadinejad, according to Farhang, was Khatami's polite and graceful manner, as opposed to Ahmadinejad's coarse manner and habit of making controversial remarks.

But Farhang observes that "when it comes to the country's economy, to civil liberties, women's rights, the issue of executions, there is no substantial difference between the Khatami era and Ahmadinejad's rule."

Farhang says that even if Khatami seeks a third term as president and wins the election, he would be unable to bring significant changes and implement social and political reforms in Iran.

Iran is ruled by the omnipotent supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and experts believe that Khatami would be unable or unwilling to challenge his authority.

Farhang says it is unlikely that Khatami would seek another term in office unless he secretly reached an agreement with Khamenei and the Guardians Council, who may have given him a green light to operate.

Sadegh Zibakalam, a university professor in Tehran, predicts that if Khatami runs for president many Iranians who voted for Ahmadinejad in 2005 would support Khatami, because so many are disillusioned with Ahmadinejad's policies and blame him for growing inflation, unemployment, and Iran's increasing isolation in the international community.

RFE/RL's Radio Farda correspondents Kian Manavi and Mehrdad Ghasemfar contributed to this report

RFE/RL Iran Report

RFE/RL Iran Report

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