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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Iran's Basij (volunteer)

by disgusted (not verified) on

Iran's Basij (volunteer) forces have been assigned to fight the threat of soft overthrow of Iran's regime, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Monday. Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), revealed the news at a gathering of 5,000 commanders of Tehran's Basij units, according to the report. Jafari was quoted as saying that Basij forces were assigned by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei to fight the threat of s.


The government of the violent illiterate run by the illiterate for the illiterate.


همه اینا کشکه!

Aghaye gol! (not verified)

شما دوستان عزیز میتونید تا روز ازل هر تحلیلی که می‌خواهید از فوأید و یا ضرر‌های کاندیداتوری این یا اون بدید، ولی‌ واقعیت اینه که هیچ کدوم از این "کاندیدهای انتسابی" دردی از مردم ایران دوا نخواهند کرد.

تا زمانی‌ که جمهوری اسلامی و ولایت وقیح پا بر جاست، اولا دموکراسی نخواهد بود و دوما انتخابات آزاد بر گذار نخواهد شد. خاتمی، احمدی‌نژاد و یا هر کس دیگه که کاندید بشه و کاندیداتوری اون قبول بشه و بعد هم انتخاب بشه، هیچ گلی‌ به سر مردم ما نخواهد زد. مگر خاتمی ۸ سال رئیس جمهور نبود؟ به قول معروف چه "گهی" خورد که حالا می‌خواد اون رو ادامه بده؟ ۸ سال مردم رو سر کار گذاشت و در حقیقت ۸ سال به این رژیم فضای نفس کشیدن داد.

شخصا که فکر نمیکنم مردم ایران زیاد این انتخابات رو جدی بگیرن چون میدونند هر کس از این رژیم سر کار بیاد همان آاش و همان کاسه خواهد بود. بدبختیمون هم اینه که الترناتیو دیگری هم نداریم. هر کس سرش به تنش می‌‌ارزید این رژیم یا از بین برد یا زندانی و شکنجه کرد. نیروهای اپوزیسیون هم که قربونشون برم از این رژیم هم دست کمی‌ ندارند و مردم نمیخوان اسمشون رو هم بشنوند.

شاید تنها امیدمون همان جنبش دانشجویی داخل باشه. به نظرم باید به هر نحوی که شده اون‌ها رو تقویت و حمایت کرد. سیاستمدار حرفه‌ای و مفت خور (و یا جیره خور این یا اون رژیم) لازم نداریم



by AnonymousDude (not verified) on

Where are the IRI supporters to pat Mrc Parsi on his back?

Hamid Y. Javanbakht

Amoo Larijani Knows Best

by Hamid Y. Javanbakht on

Going with Ahmadinejad would be a huge mistake, even if he was a nationalist with a 'heroically defiant' tone, it is time to get back on track to civility and sustainable economic policies.

Iran is already transitively allied with the U.S. on Iraq and Afghanistan, so poking the coals some more really won't do any good strategically, now it's time for some fresh air to bring this conversation a new direction, the funny thing is, even if Iran cooperates fully with the international community, it will still be bullied as an excuse to distract from other problems, such as economic frustration.

It's a public relations show for the most part,  sometimes you've got to "wax on, wax off", as Mr. Miagi would say...Iran should be more focused on strengthening allies in the region, and talking with people who understand them and want to promote fair trade (more Central-Eastern Europe/Russia, SE Asia, and less dependence on Chinese goods).

Best to avoid people who use double standards anyway (U.S.-Israel).



Don't you just love it

by MRX1 on

Don't you just love the way IRI plays with people in Iran with this kind of shamorti bazi? let him run, hell let them select him as a new president,

Face it Iran is a facist state. those in charge will put who ever they want in power and the rest is all bogus and public relation.

by the way Who will be the next hollywood idiot that will venture to Iran and lecture every one about beauty of islam...


how ironic...

by Parthian on

It was exactly people like this, Zoroasterians who we think as true Iranians, betraying their country to the foreign tazi forces. He has to live up to the legendary betrayals of those who have come before him, Salman-e Farsis of the world. What a true shame! He does so with such audacity, by complete capitulation of critical thoughts to darkness, and ignorance. We see it so often, intellectually dishonesty at its best when it comes to defending the regime in Iran, or at least portion of it. "The Iranian presidential elections will not be democratic by Western standards, but they won't lack excitement or fierce competitiveness. ", this implies that Iran is a democracy by some other standards, perhaps good enough in an Iranian, or middle eastern context. How shameful that we Iranians must twist the definition of the democracy, degrade our people to second class global citizens to shed a better light of a criminal regime in Iran. The dog and pony show continues in Iran, and Mr. Parsi wants us to be entertained while our youth are executed more than ever before. This is a shameful piece, truly shameful!

Niloufar Parsi

thanks god it's him again

by Niloufar Parsi on

poor article Titra.

you have totally misjudged the situation and the possibilities khatami's election bid open up for the voices of moderation in iran as well as in the US. Khatami has an enormous internal and international standing, and he has created a great opportunity for detente between old foes by his decision to stand. he has made an excellent calculation given obama's election, and he knows very well what he is doing. khamenei will have to step back whether he wants to or not.

Ari Siletz

Hamlet in a turban

by Ari Siletz on

Thank you Dr. Parsi. Your advice to Washington regarding Iran's election politics is logical. Doubly so is your advice to Khatami. Less hesitation, more guts. No more soliloquies; act!


The supreme leader has

by sosad (not verified) on

The supreme leader has already pre-empted the re-election of Ahamdinejad. The leadership is becoming more militant.


The Power Structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran: transition from populism to clientelism, and militarization of the government" published in Third World Quarterly (December 2005). Full text


Khatami is only to pacify the internal dissenters for a while.

Ahmadinead will get his war with the Great Satan.



by persian dad (not verified) on

elections in iran mean nothing! the supreme leader and his friends have the final say on all matters. parliament and the president have very little real power. the supreme leader and his buddies, choose who can run for the presidency.

there is no point in voting. the most effective weapon the people of Iran have is not voting. not voting will send a signal that the government has lost its legitimates and the people want real change!

long live Iran and Iranians.


Been There, Done That

by Deja Phucking Vu (not verified) on

This guy makes me feel like I'm stuck in the movie Groundhog Day like Bill Murry, except for the fact that Khatami is much worse than a groundhog, he is a worthless, ballless, wimp of a little man who made lots of promises and kept nary a one! Been there, done that.


This comment is from another

by fanofAMK (not verified) on

This comment is from another thread but it's appropriate response here too.

Nicely written text, but completely flawed argument
by Arash Monzavi-Kia on Sun Feb 08, 2009 10:11 AM PST

Every regime should be treated by how it treats its own people and other countries! As such, treating IRI as a dangerous donkey is not an insult, except perhaps to the biological donkeys.

IRI has never been open to negotiations, whether over the Hostages, the war with Iraq, the stand-off with US, and now the Nuclear question. IRI and its ruling class (the Hezbollah) only deal in the calculus of brute force. They take what they can take, hit whomever they can hit, and bow only to bigger brutes.

Take for example the submissive IRI stand vis-à-vis the USSR and now Russia. Although the Soviets and the Russians have for a century brutalized the Central Asian Muslims, occupied and devastated Afghanistan, and even now perpetrate the most horrible crimes in Chechnya; IRI has been the most respectful and submissive towards them. Why? Because they know that the Russians, unlike the West, can be brutally savage and can actually hurt them!

When dealing with IRI, the DONKEY analogy is perfect! An ignorant and primitive bunch that respect no one else, look at the world through an ideological sack, and are only driven by an absurd and stubborn single-mindedness. If you ask me, give them only the stick, till they start begging for a carrot; which by the way will come much sooner than you think!

Arash M-K

Farah Rusta

If it comes to a choice

by Farah Rusta on

betweeen Khatami and Ahmadinejad, who would choose? Personally, I would go for Ahmadinejad. Why? Because he is less of a hypocrite than Khatami.  



Project Kick-Off: NIAC's pro-Taazi Regime campaign

by Amir K. Sheibany (not verified) on

Interesting how it is NIAC who kicks off the political campaign in favour Khatami on this web-site.

We can expect, I'm sure, a reams of paper coming our way from Trita Parsi of all the pro's and con's the candidates of the Islamic Republic, and no mention of the legitimacy of the whole clerical system. Even the 'educated' Iranian's need to be talked into ignoring the elephant in the living room.

Dariush Kadivar, you know how to deal with this website better than I. Please attach/embed the YouTube video of the Animal Farm Cartoon for NIAC to see the Pigs in action. True the dogs like Ahmadinejad are not yet drunk, but fooling the new US administration, that seems to want to be fooled, is the order of the day.



Thank you Mr. Parsi

by Abarmard on

Great article. 

I am not certain what was the deal that was made with Khatami and the rest of the leadership that convince him it's a good time to re-run. I don't think Ahmadinejad is the competition to Khatami, ghallibaf is!

Ghalibaf is in the center, he has a good record in economic development and preciseness in handling the budgets, and his business mind naturally would be mild to any country. Perhaps this is what the Iranians would admire. 

It's interesting to see how it shapes in the coming months. 


Good questons Fred

by tsion on

but don't expect any answers coming.



Faxed nostalgia?

by Fred on

The head of NIAC lobby claims there is “nostalgia about khatami” and if he does not “ruffle some feathers” , “ he won’t be given a third chance”
First how does NIAC lobby head know about the existence of such “nostalgia”? Was it too faxed to him like the infamous letter? And besides why wouldn’t Khatami have a third, fourth and even fifth chance, when performance in serving Iranian people was ever a criteria in the Islamist republic?