Him again?

Khatami is still a long way from becoming Iran's comeback kid


Him again?
by Trita Parsi

Iran's former President, the soft-spoken Mohammad Khatami, ended months of speculations and revealed his bid to challenge the current Iranian President - the not-so-soft-spoken Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - in the upcoming Presidential elections in June.

"I declare that I will stand for the next elections," Khatami told reporters on Sunday, according to Iran's state-run news agency, IRNA.

With Khatami officially in the race, the Iranian presidential campaigns will begin in earnest. Never before has an incumbent Iranian president faced such a serious challenge. But in spite of Ahmadinejad's abysmal handling of the economy, he is far from defeated. The Iranian presidential elections will not be democratic by Western standards, but they won't lack excitement or fierce competitiveness.

Khatami had earlier declared that he would only run if he was given guarantees by Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, that his candidacy wouldn't be rejected by the Guardian Council, the body that vets candidates, and that he would be able to govern if elected.

Khatami's challenge now is to make sure that he can convince the Iranian populace three things. First, that he will show greater strength and willingness to challenge the political boundaries of the Islamic Republic. During his eight years as President, Khatami disappointed large segments of the population by being too timid and too unwilling to push the envelope to deliver on his promise of greater freedoms and reforms.

In comparison, Ahmadinejad has shown far greater chutzpah than Khatami ever did. For instance, while Khatami wanted to open up to the US, he never took any major bold steps and worried too much about the domestic political backlash from conservatives circles in Iran. When both President Clinton and Khatami appeared at the UN Millennium summit in New York in 2000, Khatami declined to appear in the photo-op with all other world leaders out of fear that the cameras would catch a glimpse of the two presidents shaking hands.

Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, has shown far less sensitivity. Within his first years in office, he sent two letters to President George Bush - none of them cleared by Ayatollah Khamenei - a congratulatory note to President Barack Obama, and he appeared on virtually every network in the US giving one-on-one interviews with American journalists.

Perhaps by virtue of his bombastic and insensitive style, Ahmadinejad has shown how the envelope can be pushed and how taboos can be broken in Iran. Khatami should take note.

Second, Khatami must be able to mobilize his base - the more educated classes in Iran - and make sure that they vote. This may prove a difficult task. Khatami's base has grown disillusioned with the political system in Iran and their low turn-out in the 2005 elections is believed to have enabled Ahmadinejad to snatch the presidency.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if elected, Khatami must show the courage to ruffle some feathers to implement his program. He has been given an undeserved second chance, an unexpected opportunity to run once more, which is largely due to the way Ahmadinejad's poor performances has created nostalgia about Khatami. He won't be given a third chance.

Khatami's decision to run - and his potential victory - will have significant implications for the US. Though major shifts in the foreign policy arena should not be expected - Iran's red lines on the nuclear issue are unlikely to change, for instance - a Khatami victory can help create an atmosphere that is more conducive to finding a mutually acceptable compromise between Iran and the West.

His decision to run will intensify temptations in Washington to hold back any effort to initiate diplomacy with Iran until after the election. These temptations should be resisted. The last thing Khatami needs is to be considered America's candidate in the race. In fact, opponents to Ahmadinejad argue that they will have an easier time pursuing diplomacy with the US if negotiations are initiated already under Ahmadinejad and the conservatives. It will simply be more difficult for the conservatives to oppose and undermine US-Iran talks if those talks began when a conservative held the presidency.

If Khatami is elected and an opening is found between the US and Iran, Washington must make sure it breaks its bad habit of punishing moderates in the Middle East. The Bush administration ignored several attempts by the Khatami government to reach out to the US, and it put Iran in the Axis of Evil in 2002 only weeks after Washington and Tehran had worked closely together in Afghanistan to topple the Taliban and institute a new constitution in Afghanistan. The failure of the reformist to reap any rewards for their more moderate and constructive foreign policy directly contributed to the ascent of Iran's foreign policy hawks.

Khatami is still a long way from becoming Iran's comeback kid. But if he does, both he and Washington must learn from their mistakes in order to make the comeback worthwhile.

Trita Parsi is the President of the National Iranian American Council and author of Treacherous Alliance – The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the US, a silver medal recipient of the Council on Foreign Relations' Arthur Ross Book Award. This commentary was first published on huffingtonpost.com.


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more from Trita Parsi

Khatami is still a long way from becoming Iran's comeback kid

by Faribors Maleknasri M.D. (not verified) on

his way is not so long. It takes him only the time till July.



by Jaleho on

You said:

"In the article that I linked below, he is favoring a council instead of a Supreme Pizza. He's been known to be saying that even when he was campaigning to become the head of Assembly of Experts against none other than Ahmadinejad's hero (oosa). I forgot his name now, was it Meshkini? "


I have a felling you're talking about Mesbah Yazdi. But, reading some of your posts, I am convinced that you'd prefer to call him Mesvak.



by Derakhshandeh (not verified) on

The politics of Iran are dynamic and change like the price of oil. It is not hard to persuade people and they just want something to hold on to. So Khatami should consider all the daily interactions and domestic and foreign politics.

As for Khamenei lately everyone is trying to take pot shots at him. First there were rumors of his health and when no one cared to say anything he ended up saying in a sermon himself that he is fine thank you for asking!

About Pasdaran taking power away from him, well they are powerful. Remember when the new Imam Khomeini Airport was scheduled to open on the opening day Pasdaran shut it down and ruined the grand opening ceremonies. They are going to remain powerful.

I'd worry about daily messages. Like Ahmadinejad did with his message of spreading the oil wealth around. It is like that slogan of goshad-goshad-rah-narid-shoar-nist! They'll follow you no matter what, so have a good message! Today that message is oil is at an all time low and we need to get back on the saddle by working towards mutual international goals and not pissing contests.

Khatami can bring to people's attention that when he left the Govt to Ahmadinejad things weren't as f***ed up as they are now. Like Obama AND Clinton hammered the message of 8 years of failed policies. Perhaps a simple message of are you better off than you were 4 years ago?



by Abarmard on

The leader is not too comfertable with the power of paasdaaran. At the moment they are trying to work to gether but I won't be surprise to see that the leader supports Khatami, because he might be afraid of losing power to the paasdaaraan camp, which Ahmadinejad is the rep.

For this very reasonI think it's important for the Iranians to vote, because if the militants grasp the power eventually, the situation will not improve and the possible democratic channels will shut for good.

What do you think?


Anonymous Observer

by Derakhshandeh (not verified) on

Rafsanjani ran again in 2004 or was it 2005? Anyway, he doesn't want to run anymore. He is the head of not only Assembly of Experts that selects the Supreme Pizza but also the head of Expediency Council that advises Supreme Pizza.

Don't know about the age limit but who would leave these high life time positions and run for President? When Supreme Pizza bites the dust he is the head of those who'll select the next one.

In the article that I linked below, he is favoring a council instead of a Supreme Pizza. He's been known to be saying that even when he was campaigning to become the head of Assembly of Experts against none other than Ahmadinejad's hero (oosa). I forgot his name now, was it Meshkini? Something, Ahmadinejad's hero is good enough, he was mentoring our little Ahmadinejad and he was powerful, not more powerful than Rafsanjani though, despite attacks by Ahmadinejad. The same kind of attacks as in Holocaust is afsanast like Rafsanjani's family have stole all the money - using the prevailing public view on Rafsanjani.

Anonymous Observer


by Anonymous Observer on

I thought that Rafsanjani couldn't run because they passed a law which prohibits people over 70 years of age from running, and he is 72.  Am I wrong?


Karoubi is not going to

by Derakhshandeh (not verified) on

Karoubi is not going to amount to anything. This election is going to go to a runoff like last time between Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad. So in the end it is between Ahmadinejad and Khatami.


راستی‌ فراموش نکنید کل انتخابات یک سیاه بازی هست و تصمیمگیرنده آ


راستی‌ فراموش نکنید کل انتخابات یک سیاه بازی هست و تصمیمگیرنده آخر در موارد سیاست و اداره کشور ولی فقیه هست (خامنه ای).


Obama jan shoare Change ro az Khatami yad gereft.

by پیام on

مدتها قبل از پدیده ابامه خاتمی دم از اصلاحات میزد. مخترع این واژه ایشون هست، البته بماند که در واقعیت هیچ یک از شارهایش به واقعیت نرسید. در انتخابات خرداد ماه این براش گرون تمام خواهد شد. بماند که جناح اصلاحطلب دو کاندیدا دارد، کروبی و خاتمی و این دو در اصل در انتخابات از جیب خود دزدی خواهند کرد. یعنی‌ ارای اصلاحطلب را بین خود تقسیم خواهند کرد و اینگونه برد جناح محافظه کار و احمدی‌نژاد مسلما آسانتر خواهد شد.

Anonymous Observer


by Anonymous Observer on

First, I would say that Monarchy is dead in Iran, and it will never return.  I think that our people are sufficiently politically enlightened to avoid such an error. 

Second, I agree that change must come from within Iran.  The outside opposition and has no credibility, and foreign interference will not lead to a legitimate government.  Unfortunately, the IRI has realized this fact very well also, and it forcefully and proactively tries to avoid this situation.  The checks and balances that they have in place, along with their well trained and organized intelligence agencies make sure of that.  Khatami and the reformists are not really an opposition.  They believe in the same principles that are the root problems of the IRI, namely velayat-e-faghih.  So, the situation in Iran is vastly different from the ones that you cited.  There really is no such organized opposition.


My personal observation is that real change and democratization in Iran will need at least another generation or two---and that is only if the so-called reformists come to power, stay in power for some period of time, and somehow allow a new, secular opposition to take root in Iran.  That is the only contribution that the moderates can make to Iran’s democratization.    




by Derakhshandeh (not verified) on

I think your classifications are outdated. You may have been able to clasify these groups in those boxes at one point but not anymore.

With population growth and expansion of economy (rabid inflation) throughout Iran, Bazaar for example isn't the Bazaar it used to be. Neither are the upper class/educated who may be hiding their riches in Bazaar.

Whoever wins this election needs to reach out to as many groups as possible. Of course they have their own "base".

Again the differences are clear and Khatami should not run away from these differences. He should also not be afraid of not getting a huge difference in votes. This could very well be a close election and he should think in terms of just winning. I'd hate to see him be another Rafsanjani 4 years ago. 4 years ago the differences between Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad were not clear.

Darius Kadivar

FYI/mob attacks moderate ex-president Mohammed Khatami

by Darius Kadivar on

Arash Monzavi-Kia

Thanks Mr. Parsi

by Arash Monzavi-Kia on

Very nicely written and well argued piece.

Please do not get discouraged by all the varied, colorful and often offensive comments; as you know, we Iranians have always been our own worst enemy! 

Arash M-K

Darius Kadivar

Mammad Yawn ...

by Darius Kadivar on

What About De Gaulle ?


Had the French Reasoned like Iranians regarding RP's Nose Size then France would never have liberated itself.   


As for Trita

I don't see why you blame me ? I defended him when unjustly attacked despite the fact that I did not share Any of his positions in regard to his attempts at muzzling the Iranian Opposition.

I think that the way he was treated in LA was not nice but it was only Fair after the way he treated these opponents equating them to traitors to say the least. It was his own miscalculation not to say his own fault. He attacked the Opposition blaming them for all the crimes in the World and then expected not to be hit back in return.

NIAC is Either a Political Party or a Lobby. It cannot claim to represent Iranian Americans and support people of a regime be them moderates like Khatami responsible for their exile ? As an Iranian American I believe that it is the IRI that Owes Us an excuse Not Me or any other exiled Iranian. So to see an organization like NIAC to ask the US to stop Financing the Opposition ( mainly VOA Persian or Radio Farda) in order to please the Reformists in Iran without the slightest regard for the opinion of the large majority of the Iranian Diaspora which it did not even bother consult on this crucial question was plain dishonest.

Coming from a Zoroastrian like Mr. Parsi I should say I am baffled by his contradictions.

Khatami and the Holocaust:

Khatami like nearly all the reformists and moderates of the Regime waited nearly 6 months after the Holocaust Conference was held in Tehran to express his dissaproval. For me that is enough to say he is a partner in this ideologically criminal revisionism.

The Legitimacy of the IRI:

If you are Truly a Believer then you should agree that this Regime is Illegitimate in the Eyes of GOD for claiming to speak and kill in its name. If you believe in a Secular Democratic Republic  then you should be doubly condemning this regime for claiming to be a democracy which it is not. From that Point of View Trita has at least acknowledged the dictatorial nature of the IRI and I congratulate him for this conclusion.

That is another reason why I feel he should reconsider my humble and friendly advice. He is free to refuse it and probably will. All I can say as an outside powerless observor is that he is wrong to refuse siding with RP. That's my conviction, you are free to think otherwise and conclude that the Revolution was a Victory for the Iranian people. You may as well then conclude that the Spanish Inquisition was a Gift from God.

I Beg to Differ ...






not a secret (to Roshanbeen)!

by Anonym7 (not verified) on

Mr. Roshanbeen, what you said is a well known secret. Many of us have feelings similar to yours regarding these generally Monarchist losers.
moredegAn rA bogzAr tA mordegAn bar dArand ....

--good to see your comments again, and


The US knows fully well that

by enough (not verified) on

The US knows fully well that Ahmadinejad is going to be re-elected and the regime is not going to backdown and normalize relationship with the US because their differences are irreconcilable.

These are all posturings and theatrics. The US is just going to wait...period.


Aghayeh Mammad

by Roshanbeen (not verified) on

Mammad Aziz;
Thank you very much for speaking my mind, you have much better way of saying it, I admire your thought process and expression.

I have to share this secret with you all:
Whenever I am bored with regular TV programing, I turn to Satellite TV to watch the so called opposition, and laugh my head off. I can not believe these incompetent son of gones actully think that they are somebody, they start screaming and haulring at each other. Each TV station have 5 or 6 viewer and half of them are like me tuning in for some laugh and other half still think there is a viable opposition which is going to reinstate Monarch back in power. The keep watching Crowning ceremony(Tajgoozaree) over and over again, sorry I am laughing so hard as I am typing these lines, my kids think I have totaly lost it. My favorite comedy piece is DR. S Oskoie on Aryamehr. that guy is hillarious. Sorry for Rambling , but it is good to laugh and have some fun.



by Abarmard on

One interesting aspect of the presidents in Iran, although not democratic, the candidates hugely vary as far as representation of different factions in the society. 

For example, Rafsanjani represented the Bazaries. So although he tried to remain conservative, as the Bazaries tend to be, he also was promoting a limited trade with the world. To do that he wanted some tension and some peace.

Khatami represents the production (tolidaat) and wealthier, more educated portion of the society. To be successful, you need access to the information and open trade. That was his camp.

Ahmadinejad, a bit confusing, a combination of Religious conservative, with a limited support of Bazaar (for the first time), Major support of the Paasdaaran forces, doesn't have a huge social base. He therefore approach the poorest of the society and promised huge social programs, that end up draining the funds. Although he got lucky with huge oil hikes. 

I would argue that if it was Khatami like president during such oil prices in office, Iranian economy would have certainly feel the benefits much more than today.

Having Khatami as a candidate indicates that the upper class/educated and modern "class" want to take charge, or the system wants to promote a better image of itself. Bazaaries might agree with this candidate also, since now their business is down and if more people have money, they end up spending it in Bazaars.

Niloufar Parsi


by Niloufar Parsi on

and there i was thinking i was being so sharp! :)



by Lefty Lap Poodle (not verified) on

"Islamists/Anti-Semites and their likeminded lefty allies think everyone is suffering from Alzheimer."

How many times are you going to sing this sorry song? Likeminded lefty allies?! again and again?! Don't you get tired?! WTF?! We're getting bored out of our f***ng mind! Come on. Say something new like; lackluster right handed lefty allies or something anything. Isn't there more where that came from?



by Derakhshandeh (not verified) on

Niloufar we all know the differences between Khatami and Ahmadinejad. The essence of talks (I just remembered an ad in the movie Zoolander about essence of moisture :) between Ahmadinejad and Khatami are known too.

We don't need to repeat and rehash the old and new understandings, they are known, aren't they?

Now what do we have to do to get this guy Khatami back in the saddle? Talk about that. Trita made few points in his article and I hope Khatami takes notes.

Niloufar Parsi

doostan: on talks and intentions

by Niloufar Parsi on

well, the essence of talks by ahmadinejad (A) and khatami (K) are quite different. I think A means to project iran's and islam's power, and his tactic is to take the US head on. projecting power that way has no roundabout way of succeeding. he goes for it, and happens to be doing it at a time when the US has increasingly dug itself into a quagmire in both iraq and afghanistan, and driven itself bankrupt in the process. But A wants to 'sacrifice' in the cause of revolution and his ideology. the fact that iran's economy is being strangled through his actions means nothing to him.

when K talks, he means to engage with the world. economic prosperity and making the world a better place are high on his agenda. people complained, but the last 5 years of his presidency were far more fruitful economically than the first 5 years of A's. that the press and culture also flourished under K are also well known.

So to me it is not so much about bashing the enemy. on that count, A wins hands down. but making iran more prosperous and friendly is K's advantage and style. this is a win-win approach that accelerates iran's development, and therefore, power. a constructive kind of power, rather than one that is founded on force alone (the cheney and A types of power).



by Derakhshandeh (not verified) on

I think Ahmadinejad may have been popular at one point when he said he wanted to share the oil wealth but when oil hit $140/barrel and he cut gasoline subsidies causing riots, people started to look at him differently as the true nut case that he is!

Now that oil is around $35 - $40/barrel people are convinced he is a nut case. They just have to put the 2 and 2 together. The pride and guts and all that stuff is for our comsumption outside Iran. Ordinary Iranians don't care about nuclear stuff. They care about inflation, housing, basic freedoms and so on. All of which are at the lowest levels since the early days of revolution.

So under normal circumstances you'd have to agree that a leader like him who has ruined the economy and gained 3 round of fresh UN sanctions would be a loosing candidate.

However, just like W won a 2nd term despite the catastrophic failures in Iraq, Ahmadinejad can win a 2nd term too. Add the quasi democracy and supreme pizza's influence, anything is possible. I just hope Bush's 2nd term comes as a lesson to Iranians and don't loose this opportunity to move Iran ahead.

Lastly about your question of "Exactly talk about what, and how transparent these talks would be?" the answer is no one thing exactly. Let's just have tea and talk. Now what could possibly be wrong with that?


to Niloufar, Abarmard and Derekhshandeh

by Jaleho on

Dear Niloufar, I think Trita correctly detects "timid attempts  to talk with US but really no guts to handle the "osoulgaras" in Iran, as was done by Khatami on one hand; and REAL attempts to open up with US with full guts, as was done by Ahmadinejad.

My point was that Trita, although I am sure he knows this, but he did not emphasize the huge political capital Ahmadinejad has collected with Iranian people over Khatami, because of his winning tough stance on Iran's nuclear right. His policies worked! In that respect he reminded me of Farid Zakaria who many a times has the complete understanding of the world situation, but he also knows the psyche of the news organizations in the US perfectly, with all the well established propaganda that you don't want to shake too much if you're going to continue your job! Because of that dual knowledge, he sometimes can talk in the language of neo-cons and come up with an offered startegy which leads to a complete defeat of the neo-cons, let's say in Fox News :-)

Now back to that "attempts to talk" and real talks, and some points that Derakhshandeh raises, I guess the core issue is the following:

"Exactly talk about what, and how transparent these talks would be?"

Ahmadinejad has made it extremely clear that he will not engae in any opaque talks in which the Americans certainly hope for some kind of a deal with easy-to-buy politicians. That would be the central idea of "talk" as far as Americans are concerned. They have a much better chance with Khatami naturally, as Ahmadinejad has made it clear that he would "da dar da dar what ever talks, in all of the international media, that is, a hundred percent transparency." That is the US worst nightmare.

However, Americans can not wait more than 30 years in their wishful thinking that by Khomeini going, by hoping to get some of what they want through Rafsanjani, by people like KHatami....and now hoping that Ahmadinejad would go and they get a more maleable candidate?!

After Ahmadinejad has broken every red line that the US has set for Iran regarding the missiles and the nuclear energy, no one can come and return the clock back. So, Americans know that first, despite their hopes and propaganda, there is a very big possibility that Ahmadinejad would get re-elected. Wishing him away by bad mouthing him didn't work in the past, won't work in the future!

And, they know that they would get a better deal from Ahmadinejad in this term than if he were to get re-elected! However, the Israeli side would almost certainly prevent an Iran-US healthy dialogue in this term. They truly hope for another president which is also a possibility given the economic pressure.

Given those facts in my opinion, the American side is going to "talk about talk actively," to show that they "started" the talk in this term, but would not do any serious talk until after Iranian election.


Niloufar Parsi

Derakhshandeh, abarmard

by Niloufar Parsi on

the power of khamenei is exaggerated. he will have to follow the wishes of the majority for as long as it does not totally undermine the regime. people want peace and engagement with the world, and with khatami in place this underlying current will rise to surface. khamenei would not dare get in the way or he would undermine his own legitimacy and position even further.


Valiant son of Islam

by Fred on

Islamists/Anti-Semites and their likeminded lefty allies think everyone is suffering from Alzheimer. They are giddy with the thought of their great hope in a turban, Khatami, rescuing the regime once again.

 Those who along their sleazy side kicks were responsible for the Islamist republic’s “polling station” are now glorifying Khatami once again. There is a slight hitch though; their turban is on the record  glorifying the butcher of Evin, Ladjevardi as: “valiant son of Islam and revolution, a servant of the regime and the people".

This is just one of the many many ways that proves their turban is the same as the rest of the ruling Islamist murderers. But hey he does it with a smile on his face. 


Mullahs want endless negotiations!

by No Normalcy (not verified) on

Mullahs want endless negotiations giving them enough time to build their bomb and blackmail the world with it even if it takes eight more years.

Khatami presents a softer more approachable face of the IRI to the outside world therefore with him, the regime thinks it would be easier to deceive and pull the wool over the eyes of the world.

Now that Obama has held out his hands without preconditions, mullahs have to agree to "negotiations" simply because they have no excuse not to, but what they want is ENDLESS NEGOTIATIONS without any real substantial results!! they are just stalling for time until they build their bomb and confront the world with it!

They cannot have normalcy with the U.S. simply because normalcy with the U.S. for IRI means IRI ceasing to exist!

Bill Clinton was not so adamant for negotiations and besides nuclear issues did not seem such an urgent issue back then when Khatami was the stooge president so nothing to do with Khatami's nonexistent reforms!



by Derakhshandeh (not verified) on

First of all here's an article from Tehran, about Supreme Pizza's future:


I agree that talking to Iran at this stage will give status to Ahmadinejad and he'll get credit for it. But it is what it is. In my comment I said Khatami tried to have talks (regardless of who started it) but it didn't happen. I believe it was supreme pizza because if you recall early on when Khatami visited UN many were asking him if talks are possible but he'd say no and in no uncertain terms saying supreme pizza doesn't allow it. Supreme pizza himself had semons saying no way Jose. Remember?

Now during Ahmadinejad that did not happen. I believe that is a direct result of Khatami's reforms. The letters and stuff like that was his way of reaching out, regardless of how stupid they seem(ed).

I'm just trying to say that politics does not have a mother or father and no one knows how things may turn up as we witnessed. If Obama talks to Ahmadinejad he'll have to deal with it. Afterall it was US's blanket refusal to talk to Iran that made Ahmadinejad continue with his rhetoric, chutzpah.


Dear Niloufar

by Abarmard on

I agree with you.



by Abarmard on

Ahmadinejad's letter to the US at the beginning was not to start a dialogue. True that it could have been if US "agreed" that they need to follow "saraat al mostagheem" ;)

Those letters were advise and religious guidance for the American government, which the soft, friendly and political peaceful tone was absent in it.

Khatami had initiated the talks with the US. Don't mistake the US gesture as the initiation. Iran had already helped US in Afghanistan and was willing to cooperate with the US. This was not so during Ahmadinejad.

Now however, Ahmadinejad wants the US talks more than anytime during the conservative rule in Iran. Ahmadinejad and his camp know that the talks will take place and he wants to take credit for it. Obama will wait until the election for this reason that he does not want to credit Ahmadinejad's admin. Although if Ahmadinejad wins, Obama will talk with him.

The government in Iran is heavily influenced by the conservative clergies but it's a mistake to think that there is any one person who has the ultimate power. The system is not designed that way and it's the mistake of many countries' politician to think that way when approaching Iran.