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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Darius Kadivar

FYI/RP on France 24 (English Edition)

by Darius Kadivar on

Interview of RP on France 24 the French CNN Program in English and French:

Part I

Part II:

Niloufar Parsi

abarmard jan

by Niloufar Parsi on

thanks for that. we will have to wait and see where khatami stands in iran.

i guess i wanted to see Titra explore the positive potential of khatami's bid rather than refer to him as a 'comeback kid', and state truisms like he will 'have to learn from the mistakes of the past'.

i see khatami as an extremely sophisticated man, and for sure iran is better off with people like him in power, and despite the fact that he is a mullah. 



by Derakhshandeh (not verified) on

Ahmadinejad is not resorting to US-Iran talks to deflect attention from his screw up of economy. As far as I remember he advocated talk from the beginning kinda; letters, moshaere, manbar and so forth.

This in fact is one item I don't get. When Khatami started reforms, US tried to approach Iran with Clinton and Albright apologizing for siding with Iraq in Iran Iraq war. But Supreme Pizza denied any talks with US. He didn't even let Khatami to get a chance to say let's talk.

Then came Ahmadinejad with all his rhetoric, chutzpah. By the way Ahmadinejad's chutzpah is like many users on this website with their chutzpah! LOL

This time the tables were turned. Iran wanted to talk but Bush didn't want. So now Obama wants to talk and Iran wants to talk but they don't talk. So nothing is happening.

I just think it is important to note that in all previous elections there was one known candidate and one unknown candidate. This time is different. At first I thought Khatami would definately loose. But now I think it is his election to loose.


Dear Niloufar Parsi

by Abarmard on

-The Title of the articles are normally assigned by the Iranian.com publishers.

-Ahmadinejad's defeat in economy has made him desperate and he is advocating the idea of US-Iran talk before he leaves office.

-Khatami is well recognized in the west, but where does he stand in Iran? The challenges that Khatami might face is the core of this piece. It's a scenario developing piece rather than directional: to make decisions for you.

-The "idea" of the article is directed for the US to approach Iran, and if it's Khatami then be it.

The article is a short open minded letter about the scenario. It's not far from reality.



by Mammad on

First of all, Khatami has never denied Holocaust. Secondly, he has never denied gross violations of human rights. So, for you to write in a way that would seem to imply otherwise is dishonest.

Velvet revolution, if it happens, will neither need Reza Pahlavi, nor will have anything to do with him. The reason simple: People who live in Iran do not give a hoot to Reza Pahlavi, or to any "leader" living outside Iran.

Regardless, the first condition for Reza Pahlavi to be taken seriously by what you call "true democratic opposition" (and as of now he is not, despite the best efforts of you on this page and others elsewhere) is admitting the dictatorship of his father and the crimes that he committed. After all, the only reason Reza Pahlavi is even "matrah" is that he is the son of his father, the last secular dictator of Iran. Otherwise, he has no achievement in life; no high education to speak of, and has lived off the wealth that his father left him (I won't get into the source of the wealth). Reza Pahlavi cannot say, as he always does, "history will judge my father and the 1953 coup," but attack the revolution. The revolution happened 30 years ago, the coup happened 55 years ago. Why an event that happened 55 years ago should be left to be judged by history, but one that happened 30 years ago is already judged? In fact, the entire Pahlavi dynasty was the product of foreign-sponsored coups: Reza Khan by the British-sponsored coup of 1921, and Mohammad Reza in the CIA-MI6 coup of 1953. Otherwise, even the dynasty itself would be a phantom. 

True, the recvolution was highjacked, and got us into this mess, but the revolution itself had legitimate economical, social, political, and cultural reasons. One can scream, shout, deny history, etc., but historical facts won't change just because we say so.

Your comment about Trita is also interesting. In this page he is constantly accused of being a lobbyist for the IRI. But, if he joins Reza Pahlavi, then, all of a sudden, he is a good man? Who the heck is Reza Pahlavi that a highly educated, informed, and articulate young man like Trita should join him?

True, unity of all democratic forces is essential to any effective opposition. But not the so-called opposition in exile, rather the democratic groups INSIDE Iran. Democratic opposition in exile is a phantom. As a RELEVANT force such an opposition does not exist in exile. What we have in exile are several small groups - if we can call them as such - with no following inside Iran that are constantly bickering among themselves, and any time anything is said about them on satellite TV inside Iran, the only reaction is ridicule. Even if such groups set aside all of their bickering and "ideological battles" and unite, they would still amount to very little, if anything. Effective opposition must come from within, led by people who live within Iran, know and live the problems first hand, and do not receive any help or aid from foreign powers. We have already had enough of foreign-sponsored groups in Iran. 

Reza Pahlavi constantly talks about the apartheid regime in South Africa. He should first learn what African National Congress did in South Africa and how it achieved its victory, and then open his mouth. The ANC was home grown. Its leaders lived in SA, either among people, or in jail. Its leaders like Steve Bikko, were murdered because they led the opposition from within, not through a phantom opposition outside. Nelson Mandela was in jail for 30 years. That is how ANC succeeded, not through the "leadership" of some dubious figures living outside, like the character that you advocate constantly in this page. True, ANC had a lot of support outside SA. But, the work and the leadership all took place IN SA, not outside.



Niloufar Parsi

Jaleho jan

by Niloufar Parsi on

i think this is where we differ: i look forward to a detente with the west so that we can get on with the job of getting rid of political spiritualism. khatami is the candidate of choice for that. he would be the closest thing to gorbachev that we have.

my disappointment with Titra's article is basically because it is full of logical contradictions. he starts off with the title 'him again'? an expression which usually comes with 'oh no'. he then seems to praise ahmadinejad's courage, leading one to believe that he sees khatami as a weakling, and then goes on to show that ahmadinejad took several initiatives even going as far as writing to obama and there is a mention of his interviews with the US press.

but he ignores the fact that khatami not only participated in the UN millennium summit, he led the whole international call for dialogue among cilvilizations, got the UN assembly to set year 2001 as the 'year of dialogue among civilizations', and continues to carry considerable international weight and a following on this issue. he would be the perfect choice for a peace process, an able to match obama himself.

he also created the perfect conditions for settleing the nuclear issue, but was patently betrayed by the US. The US is now ready for dealing with khatami. it was not then. 

khatami also spearheaded the flourishing of cultural and press freedom for a while in iran, and nouri, serving under khatami was openly set to take on the basiji thugs. khatami was guilty of timidity, that is true, but he exercised judgement having been rejected abroad. in any case, i think this time around he would not back down as easily because the people are even more hungry for freedom and fed up with the hardliners.

Coming back to Titra, it is hard to se what he stands for here with all the contradictory messages coming through, but he almost looks like he is proud of the hardliners' position, which again, makes little sense coming from NIAC. 


The Opposition (????) should

by mehrban (not verified) on

The Opposition (????) should come up with Farsi substitutes for Opposition and Secularism so that Iranians can even begin to warm up to them. After all Farsi is the language of the people Opposition is trying to librate. And what a language.

Also some lessons from the 2500 years of Iranian history would not hurt so that all the examples are not from French or other western cultures. Iranian identity and pride is what was lost to the Iranians during the time of the Shah. It seems like the Oppositions is going down the same slippery slope.


To Derakhsahndeh

by Brain cells (not verified) on

If you had used your brain cells, you would have admitted to this undeniable fact that the Supreme Pizza not only decides who to approve to run, but eventually decides who comes out of the ballot box as the winner.


پرتاب لنگه کفش بسوی خاتمی

لنگه کفش (not verified)

درمورد پرتاب لنگه کفش به سوی خاتمی باید گفت که کفش که سهل است اگر کل صنف کفاش و دباغ هم روی ایشان فرود آید، کک شان نمی گزد! این ها از راه شعور و شرف و آبرو به این مقام ها نرسیده اند که با پرتاب لنگه کفش و گوجه فرنگی و تخم مرغ گندیده از میدان به در روند. اولی را پیش از روی کارآمدن این رژیم تباهی و سیاهی، عمری پوشیده بودند و دومی را در همان سالها با صدقه مردم، می خریدند که دستان مبارکشان را به شرف "کارکردن" نیالایند! از این گذشته، درس نخستی که این جماعت در حوزه ها خوانده اند، چشم دریدگی و بی حیایی است. آنچه باید به سوی این جماعت پرتاب کرد، بی اعتنایی به خواست شان در هر زمینه از جمله شرکت در انتخابات است. با این همه باید کفش های کهنه را هم نگاه داشت. وقت پرتاب آن ها هم می رسد!

Darius Kadivar

Trita Jaan Take My Advice Join Reza ;0)

by Darius Kadivar on

Join Reza !


Together you can achieve much more efficiently in rallying Iranians on the essential: Support for Civil Society and Peaceful Civil Dissobedience in order to achieve what we all want a Secular Society and a Secular Democratic System of Government.

Regime Change through a VELVET REVOLUTION is the Only Honorable way Out of this mess and fruitless Islamic ideological diatribe that has lasted for more than 30 years now.

UNITY of All Democratic Opposition Forces is the Only Logical Opportunity we have and this could even include religious moderates like Khatami if he gives up the comedy of Reform and double standards when it comes to Human Rights violations and Holocaust Denials to say the least.

My Humble Opinion,




Farhad Kashani what is this BS about or what this is BS about?!

by Derakhshandeh (not verified) on

Farhad Kashani what is this BS about or what this is BS about?! Either way as Forrest Gump once said and you should take note, stupid is what stupid does. No need to get angry and shower us with your wisdom!

As Marge reminded you the other day about that lady in Allahska; Thanks but no thanks!

Farhad Kashani

What this is BS about

by Farhad Kashani on

What this is BS about "Western democratic standards"??? Another twisted logic to justify the actions of fascist regimes such as the IRI!! Like the term "Islamic Republic" or "Islamic Human Rights"!!!


Democracy is Democracy, free elections is free elections, freedom of speech is freedom of speech. There is no "Western" or "Eastern" Democracy. Then what is the "Eastern" standard of democracy?? How does Japan and S Korea and Singapore practice Democracy??



Farhad Kashani

Elections in an Apartheid

by Farhad Kashani on

Elections in an Apartheid regime such as IRI is a joke. This is nothing but a "selection of Khamenei's international PR director (i.e. the so called "president").

This is just a show to fool naive people in the West, and to give material to their Socialist supporters in the world to think that this is a "republic"!!



Trita the Idiot!

by Anonymous on

once more this guy has proven to be in the pockets of Iranian Mullahs.

but you should give him a credit for his humor, calling this mullahs a "comeback kid"...Pleeeeeaaaaassssseee!


Brain Cells

by Derakhshandeh (not verified) on

Use your brain cell and read the article. It said:

"The Iranian presidential elections will not be democratic by Western standards, but they won't lack excitement or fierce competitiveness."

While the so called supreme leader decides who to approve to run, this competition is going to be fierce, again not by western standards.

In this case the supreme pizza :) has already approved these 2 candidates and we know them both. Don't we? If you don't know the difference between Khatami and Ahmadinejad then okay.



by ali133 (not verified) on

akhoonde beesavad ke nemeetoone hokoomat koneh!!!!

a dirty mullah is a dirty mullah......you can't expect anything better with a buncha shepeshee akhoonds who get their order from russia and britain to give u democracy!!

get rid of the akhoonds and the basijis and you will have freedom, pure and simple


to Mr. or Ms. Derakhshandeh: get a grip on your emotions

by Brain cells (not verified) on

You are talking as if we were dealing with real elections in a real democracy.

The Supreme leader is the one who will have the last word and chooses finally who will be president REGARDLESS.

He will never ever be caught off guard as he was in 1376. That was a one time deal.


Not sure what to make of this article

by Derakhshandeh (not verified) on

You know when Rafsanjani came to power he was tasked with "economic expansion". Before him Khamenei was just Khamenei and dealing with war. After Rafsanjani, Khatami came to power with "political expansion" policy. Ahmadinejad's expansion? Not sure, perhaps iluded to in this article suggesting "chutzpah"!

But I'm not sure what to make of this article. Are you saying Ahmadinejad chutzpah would have been there if he had followed Rafsanjani's "economic expansion"? Don't you think Khatami's reforms made it possible for not just Ahmadinejad's chutzpah but many others to boast they too have chutzpah?

I think Khatami's candidacy and this June election will be the first time Iranians get to choose two tested politicians. Two school of thoughts. That is what this next election is all about not who can win a pissing contest.

Unlike any other previous elections everyone knows who these 2 candidates are and they know who they'll get.

Win or loose this is an election to follow and the time is right and a defining moment in Iranian history and Iranian politics.


Fred, Zion, Persian dad and commander-wanna be

by Jaleho on

Iran's election is far more a reflection of people's will than most of US elections (last one of US was one of its very best represented by a large number of grass root efforts). You can see that by some indicators signifying the health of an election, for example, the voter turn out, I guess a figure that Persian dad thinks he can change by his funny lecture!

Also, unlike the American election in which most candidates are vetted by corporations and different influential lobbies, often giving the voters a choice between two equally well-bought-candiddates, in Iran you get a variety of candidates. Don't listen to your American propaganda too much, not good for your sanity! No one can FORCE people, and in particular political savvy Iranians to come out and vote against their wish.


Zion and Fred instead of talking nonsense about Iran's election, better worry about their own election in Israel! Did their cheer in Gaza massacre establish either Kadima, or even Netanyahu as they wished, and is now projected? Or, do Israelis have to recognize an America who is forced to talk to Iran with mutual respect ?  Do they think the bloodthirsty Israeli policy has made Obama deal with a fait accompli extension of Bush, Barak-Livni policy towards Hamas, or do they come to their senses and admit that Israel failed to eliminate Hamas as the most important viable representative of Palestinians?


Trita, why no mention of Ahmadinejad's greatest

by Jaleho on

plus over Khatami, that is, under his leadership Iran stood up to western bullying over Iran's right to nuclear energy, whereas Khatami accepted a freeze in Iran's activity?

Unlike my dear freind Niloufar Parsi, I believe this time you overestimated Khatami vs. Ahmadinejad! However, as usual you had a very clever observation regarding Washington's better choice of not waiting for Iran's election to start serious negotiation. That would be a repeat of Washington mistaken policy of wishful thinking.




one Mola...

by Anonymous111 (not verified) on

two mullah...three mullah...four mullah...

all the same....

Kaveh Nouraee

Polish a turd

by Kaveh Nouraee on

It's still a turd.


After 30 years, talk shifts from revolution to democracy

by teapot (not verified) on

Hassan Rastegar, 55, a grizzled former trucker now working at the restaurant, disagrees.

"We were well fed before the revolution," he says. "The revolution didn't do anything for us. It didn't give us land."

It's true no one gives us anything," Rezaie says. "But no one was supposed to give us anything. We helped ourselves up."

"You see the fancy houses?" Gol-Mohammad says. "They belong to the capitalists. If you're a capitalist you can buy a piece of land and build the nicest house ever. It's the young who are suffering."

Younger farmer Hussein interjects. His friends are mixing everything up. "The debate about freedom is one thing," he says. "The debate about loans to buy houses is another thing."

"It's the same. It's all about justice," Gol-Mohammad says.

"The revolution gave us bravery," Hussein says. "Under the shah, people would see a soldier and they would pee in their pants. Now the people will put their heads into the lion's mouth. Imam Khomeini gave the people the bravery to stand up to authority."

Gol-Mohammad, who says he's been locked up 10 times for speaking out against the government, says the mayor's security forces once tore up a man's house, beating him and arresting him over a property dispute. Later, the man was charged with insulting current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and also Khomeini.

Such abuses of power, he says, "are what people are upset about." Thirty years after the revolution, the rich and powerful still lord over the weak, he says.

The friends fall silent, until Rezaie speaks up.

"We tolerated hardship and sanctions, but our education and economy have gone up," he says. "This revolution changed all of Iran."

"I disagree with you," Gol-Mohammad retorts. "I totally disagree with you."

"Yes, but I still respect you. I still look up to you," Rezaie says

"There are even people who long for the return of the shah, and that's fine," he says, displaying tolerance for sharply contrasting views.

"Did you see that Iranian rocket with a satellite going into space?" he says, smiling broadly. "That's our pride. Maybe we'll go hungry. But it won't be a problem. We will grow."



by Mehrban (not verified) on

Thank you for posting the article in LA Times.


Will Khatami stand up to this? I doubt it very very much

by Gozareshgar (not verified) on

Khameneii's assignment for Bsseej!



To Ostaad: There is no comparison!

by Commander (not verified) on

Man what are you taking us for? RETARDS?!

Are you comparing the Iraq's SEMI democratic election under American supervision to Iran's elecshow under the strict control of Council of Guardians and the Supreme Pharoah?!!

People will go and vote anyway no matter what anybody says since they have no choice, no unifying leader, no unity among themselves so in order to make ends meet and do with what they've got, they would go and like cattles of sheep vote and choose between bad and worse any way as always!!

They did it last time as well! remember all the dog and pony show for Rafsanjani, oh excuse me Hashemi last time?!!! all those pretty girls with full make-up advertising for Hashemi?!!!


Recycle this.

by Ostaad on

Bringing Khatami back to lead the cause of "reformers" reveals the dearth of choices in the Iranian political arena. Khatami was good for his time because he put the reform agenda on Iran's political map.  But the fact that no other prominent figure has emerged to carry the mantle of reform in Iran reveals the lack of organization and coherence in the reformists camp. Khatami's seeking guarantees from Khamenie that his election bid would not be rejected is a good sign that Khatami has not been able to grow a solid political backbone yet. He should have thrown his name in the hat and let the events take their course. He would have much more credibility if he had done that instead of begging. Khatami has not changed a bit.

To Persian Dad, boycotting the elections will achieve nothing except helping the hardliners who WILL vote. Nothing helps the incumbents more than a low turnout. I assure you the ruling mollahs do not need a "signal" from the people. They don't give a rat's ass about what the people think. For example the Sunnis in Iraq boycotted the elections. Soon they realized their mistake. 


Don't count on it

by Alborzi (not verified) on

One thing that IRI has shown is that its not shy to do what she feels is necessary. In fact getting rid of Mojahedin was the example. Just like Ghorbochov, Khatami is not as popular as he was, for Iranians, he did not deliver or show guts and thats what people like a person who says what he is going to fight for. I think he is more nostalgia than reality. Kind of like Shah.


To Niloufar

by Commander (not verified) on

I guess Ali Khamneii was waiting for your command to step back 'cuz he takes his orders from you.

Just a dog and pony show bringing this semi-dead horse once again to the arena to pull the wool over Obama's eyes ... what a shame!

Feel sorry for all those who do not have a hand in the bowl mullahs & Co. are eating from.


Washington's man in

by cobsys (not verified) on

Washington's man in Iran

Swiss diplomat Philippe Welti spent more than four years as his nation's chief envoy to Iran -- and Washington's. He discusses the benefits and limitations of diplomacy with the Islamic Republic.

...But his initial euphoria gave way to a more negative view of the nation as he gained a more thorough understanding of Iran's political and social system. In getting to know ranking officials, he came to believe that the Islamic Republic was "not at the level of its aspirations or claims."

He saw mendacious officials manipulate public opinion and was disappointed by the cynicism of some top officials, who rationalized away concerns about human rights and freedom of expression by labeling them "Western" concepts.

He was struck by the provincialism of the officials, many of them recent arrivals to the capital from rural backwaters, he said. "I got the impression that there are officials who do not know the world well."

He found himself frustrated with both the stubbornness of Iran's conservative camp and the weakness of its reformists. After a couple of years in Tehran and watching the transition from Khatami to Ahmadinejad, he concluded that it would be tough to change Iran's foreign policies.

"As long as there is a gap between fundamentalist positions and international standards of intergovernmental exchange and relations, it will be difficult for Iran to engage fully with the world," he said. ""