TOPICS > Politics

Dr. Mohammad Reza Khatami

February 1, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT

TRANSCRIPT

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you for being with us Dr. Khatami. We were here 2 years ago and the political situation seemed more open. How would you describe the changes since then?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes, many things have been changed, but we should separate the changes in the government, the states and the community. Unfortunately, we do not have progress in the government — in term(s) of democracy and civil societies

But in the community, we have many positive changes. The attitudes of people have changed and they are really following the path of democracy now and they are implementing civil society institutions that are not affiliated with the government. And the wave of reforms spread all over country, even in the villages, in the very little towns. And so we are happy with the changes, although the politicians here in Iran are not so satisfied with the changes in the government.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Before we go into that, can you give me a couple of examples of the changes in villages or towns. What specifically do you see?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes, now we have 10,000 civil society institution NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) in the country. They are not political NGOs. They are active in every aspect of society — for instance the drug addiction, fighting the drug addictions, in the field of sports, art, and so on. We have more than 700 papers affiliated with the students. We have organized — I mean Iranians have organized — NGOs all over the country, and fortunately the new and modern technology helped us to spread and expand these changes in Iran. For instance, the Internet; the number of people who use Internet is now more than 8 million in the country. It means that nearly every family in the country have access to the Internet and to the news spread in the world.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: They can go online and get anything?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes. Nearly. They can break down the filters; although the government filters many sites, but the people are able to break these filters. On the other hand, at the moment, fortunately, the changes in the world, especially in the region, make the attitude of people to be more positive. They feel the wave of democracy in the world. So, they are active in strengthening the power of the people.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What specifically are you speaking of when you say they feel the wave of democracy?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: You know, after 9/11 in the U.S., I think the United States government and the western countries realized that dictatorship governments — especially in the region are the main enemy to democracy in the world — are the main enemy of the free world. It’s very important for us.

Unfortunately, before 9/11, the main supporter of the dictatorship governments in the region and the world were the United States government and the western countries. And also in the speech and words, they changed their attitude; and it caused the people in the Muslim countries to realize that it is now the time for rising for democracy — although they do not trust to the West and to the United States — that the government of the United States is really behind and a supporter of democracy. But the people here realize that the behavior of the world is to support democracy in the Eastern countries and the Muslim countries. So, the Iranian people, who are the [birthplace] of democracy in the region now two years later, we have ceremony for one century of [having a] constitution in Iran. It’s very interesting for us and in last century, we had many movements in the country for democracy — and unfortunately, or fortunately, all of them were against the government, supported by the U.S. It’s very interesting for us.

So, in this situation, the changing attitude of the people, the expanding of the knowledge and the awareness of the people, the new technology and the changing in the region– a wave of democracy as I said — are very good issues for the people of Iran to be more powerful for fighting for democracy inside Iran.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The changing in the region — let’s talk about that for a moment. Do you see events in Iraq as being very positive for the reformist movement here?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: There are some negative and positive signs in Iraq. Removing the Saddam regime is very positive for the Iranian people, particularly for Iranian people. Election is very positive, and again, if really a democratic government is established in Iraq, again, it’s very interesting and very good sign for Iranian people because the situation in Iraq is like, is like it is in Iran: the Kurds, the Sunni and Shia and many majority and minority groups in Iraq are the same. So, if a really democratic government is established in Iraq, it’s a very good sign for Iran.

But, unfortunately, we have many negative signs also in Iraq. Occupation is not accepted by any people here in Iran or Iraq, although we can argue about that — that it is necessary for establishment and for security in Iraq that foreign militaries should stay in Iraq more; but we should have a time table for evacuation of the military forces — foreign military forces from Iraq — especially after the establishment of an Iraqi government. And the insurgency in Iraq also have a bad news that everybody here in Iran and Iraq are not happy with these events and they feel that some of these insurgencies are because of the occupation of Iraq. So, we have both good sides and bad sides in Iraq, but totally speaking, I think especially after the election in Iraq, the positivity is more than the negativity.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And for you personally, this hard, hard work, at great risk, that you’ve been doing as a reformist, does Ayatollah Sistani help that movement? Do you know him, by the way, personally?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: You know, Ayatollah Sistani is originally from Iran, from the province of Sistan, and no, I have not met him. I have heard about him — not only in the last two years — but since 10 years, 15 years ago, we heard about him; and we know him very well and we think that Ayatollah Sistani is a prototype of the clerics and the religious leaders that should guide the people to the right way, but not to interfere directly in the events that will happen in the country. I think the way Ayatollah Sistani chose is having many influences over countries like Iran and like other Muslim countries that religion is very important for the people. So, it’s a new way (to) deal with religion and politics together and to put every of them in their right position.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We’ve been talking about the positive things that have happened, but you’ve faced tremendous opposition from the leaders of this government. Who runs Iran right now?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: I think another positive issue that we have in the last 8 years in Iran is that the wave of democracy is influencing inside the government also. Although the government has this part that bans some reformists from participating in the elections; disqualifies them.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Including you. You were disqualified…

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: It doesn’t mean that the power of the government and the integrity of the government has increased. No. Because now, many of the conservatives also have this idea that reform is necessary for the country.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, what happened with them when you were being forbidden from running?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: They are doing their job inside the conservative camp. It’s very interesting for us. As for us, we are sure that if the conservatives win the next election, they are not able to bring back to country to 8 years ago. They realize that the Iranian people and the world situation has been changed. And they want to be in power, so. On the other [hand], I can’t say that they are more secular than the previous generations.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Then why — this was just over a year ago that you were forbidden to run; why did that happen?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes, I said that. There’s a battle, a comparison — a competition in the top of the government. Yes, they have some hostilities about us, but it doesn’t mean that they can do something.

If they get the power as they did 8 years ago, 10 years ago, at the moment, they realize they should change their speech, their behavior, their activities to be acceptable for the people of Iran and for the world. So, I think one of the main achievements of the reform in Iran was not [just] in the society and the community, it was also in the government. The slogans, the plans and programs that conservatives give to the people is a copy of the reform program that we have in Iran.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So, why did they disqualify people from running again?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Because they want to be in power.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: They want to have total power?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Can they stop you from running again?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes, they thought that if we get the power, we have this ability to push them away totally from the government — and do not allow them to interfere in the government at all in the future. So, they want to be in power and bring some calm and rest to the community and they want to do the reform by their hands, not by us –

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Top down reform so they can control the process?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: They do (not) want to say to the people that we emulate the reformists. “It is our idea. Reform is our idea,” they want to say; so at the moment, they want to push away all reformists from the power to not have their rivals in the government and then they will do many of the reformists programs in the country.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you believe they may disqualify your candidacy as Vice President on the ticket of your party?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: I think the situation is a little bit better than one year ago in the parliamentary elections because the result they wanted to achieve in the parliament, they have not achieved. They thought that if the parliament be for them totally, they can run the government more easily. It has not happened and now the competition and the differences among the conservatives and the conservative wings is getting higher and higher. For example, you can say that the main candidates of conservatives are doing against each other, for example, Mr. Larijani and Mr. Velyati (please check) and also Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani. They cannot gather all of them to each other, so they realize that ruling the country and running the government is not so easy.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Does this mean they might disqualify you or not?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: I think they may disqualify, but the chance for us is higher than last year. The other thing that is very important is that we are hopeful of the future — is the changing of attitudes of people here because people now are not so disappointed as they were last year. They are a little bit angry about the conservatives –and they want to support us — many of them.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you think they’ll come out and vote?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes, so it is the other thing that put more pressure on the conservatives not to disqualify our candidates. And the last thing is the changing in the region. It’s very difficult for the conservatives to disqualify for instance Dr. Moin who was in the government since the eve of the revolution; disqualify him — that you not agree with the revolution and the Islamic republic and so on. Last month, we had a free election in Iraq. It’s very difficult for them and puts more pressure internationally and internally over the conservatives to accept our candidates to run the election.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How do the comments of President Bush and Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, fit in here? President Bush said “To the Iranian people, I say tonight, as you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.” What’s your response?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: You know, threatening the security and the integrity of the country is not acceptable by any nation in the world, so many people here in Iran feel some hostility in the speech of President Bush.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, that was one side of the speech where he threatened, but there is also the other side.

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: But one thing that is very clear is that the plan of the United States government is change of regime in Iran and I think people here in Iran who also are against many activities, behavior of the government, they do not want a change of regime because we have an example here that one revolution is enough for us.

They look at Iraq. What happened in Iraq? Two, three years of an insurgency, killing and many difficulties that people in Iraq have; So people here in Iran believe that we can also bring reform inside, into this government, although we don’t agree with this government totally.

But the only way for changing the situation is for reform, not changing the regime. We have many experiences in the democracy and reform. Changing the regime is another form of revolution. It means that we should start again from zero. We want to put one stone on another stone.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We want to put–

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: One stone over another stone; build a community; a democratic community. So, foreign interference with the internal affairs of Iran means that you go back to the point of zero. It’s not acceptable for us.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let me just interrupt. On the one hand, it’s very positive what the United States has made happen in Iraq — in that there has been the end of Saddam Hussein and fair elections. On the other hand, what the Bush administration is doing in the way it talks about Iran is not good for you? How would you explain this?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: No, as I said, in Iraq, we had some good and bad events. We can argue about whether the military invasion of Iraq was the only and the best way for giving democracy to the people of Iraq. We are sure it is not. So, yes, they have some good and positive achievements in Iraq — an election, but in evaluation of costs and benefits, we think that we could achieve more progress in Iraq without a military invasion –

And again, there are much differences between Iranian regime and Saddam. You know the wave of democracy in Iran is much stronger than in every other country in the world. And people here, in Iran are not totally agree with the President Bush administration’s plan about the region including about Iran. People here in Iran believe they can change the attitude and the behavior of the government (with) reform. It’s very interesting for us.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you wish that President Bush and Condoleezza Rice never said those things?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: No, no. That’s different. I think we have many difficulties here in Iran — human rights. We have many difficulties about engagement of the world.

But also, we have also many common interests. People here in Iran say that if Iran could not collaborate with the United States in Afghanistan — what will happen in Afghanistan? And you know that in Iraq, only Iran and the United States and the Shia population in Iraq were agreed with the election. All Arab countries were against the election, so you know, we have many interests in the region and the world. We should emphasize on our common interests. So, saying or give a speech with hostility is not constructive for our relations.

We have many worries about each other. Many are psychological or historical. We can change our attitudes. We should decrease our animosity. It’s very interesting, so everything that should cause raising of animosity

It’s not useful for both of us. So, I think the way that Pres. Clinton and his administration chose 8 years ago — it was very positive for normalization of the relationship, but after that, just one month after victory Afghanistan, we had the very famous speech of Pres. Bush, state of the union, axis of evil–

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Axis of evil.

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: That was a very disappointing thing for us. What happened? Although we know that the U.S. And Western countries are worried about some things here in Iran, but we think there are many other ways — to sit and talk and solve many problems that we have, so closing all windows and doors for dialogue– for talks– is not useful for us. And I think this manner, this behavior of the President Bush and his administration is against the reform inside Iran, because as I said there are many historical taboos in our relationship.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What kind of taboos?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: You know, in the time of Mossadegh, bringing back the shah and the time of revolution, occupation of the U.S. Embassy and many other things that caused …

Because not only the government of two countries are not familiar with each other, the people of the two countries are not so familiar with each other and they feel that all of them are enemies of each other. It’s very bad, so we should change this mind. It’s very important for us — and I think at the moment because of this feeling in Iran that conservatives can take this message to the population that the reformists and the United States government are saying the same.

American democracy is not useful for us. Iranian democracy is useful for us — and if President Bush or any other country … want(s) to impose some other democracy on us, people will be opposed to that. And at the moment, unfortunately, the government can misuse this speech to unite the people and to put more pressure on the reformists.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you get the feeling that the Bush administration has just given up on you. They don’t think you can deliver, so they’ve just given up on the reformist movement.

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: No, according to my knowledge, President Bush administration is investing in opposition outside the country, not inside.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Because they’ve given up on you?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes. Because they think that reform in Iran by the Iranian people inside of Iran cannot go more.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And you believe it can?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes, it can. You know, we are very active here and if you go to every country in the region, you can not see any countries like Iran that opposition like us be active, although we have many difficulties inside here. Many of our newspapers are banned. We do not have enough security to do our job, but we are — we have [a] party. We sit down here, me as opposition, legal opposition and you as an American journalist to talk about the government and criticize the government, so it’s very useful for us, so opening this window is very important.

.Many things have changed here in Iran and in the United States — and the next way was opening something with talk and dialogue between the politicians. We had an agenda when we were in the Majlis (parliament) to have some direct dialogue with the congressmen.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I remember. It would almost happen and then it would stop.

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Mr. Kharoubi went there and had some informal talks with some congressmen there, so we should be patient. Changing the regime in Iran, nothing will be changed. The hostility that will remain –

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: If there is a regime change.

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: If there is a regime change by some military interference from abroad.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You want the administration to be patient while these reforms work themselves out.

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes. Support of reform is support of human rights. Support of the reform, but — but by recognizing the Islamic Republic of Iran. I’m sure that if we have a referendum in Iran, the majority of the people will vote for an Islamic republic. But, by reading of President Khatami, not by reading of some conservatives; you know, because stability here is very important for the people.

And people do not know what will happen if the regime change, so they do not have another revolution experience in Iran; so people want to be positive; they do know what they do not want.

It’s very important for them, so we are doing our job to express to — and show the people what is the ideal government for the country. It’s very important … and we have been successful in all manner, although many young people are unsatisfied with the reform, but know they can realize that the only way is the reform; should not be happy with the support from foreign countries from abroad. If they want a modern progress, developed country, they should change by themselves. It’s very important; support of these people is very important. And fortunately or unfortunately, we cannot say the conservatives in the government have not support of people of Iran.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: They do have some support?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes, we are sure that at least 20 percent of the people in Iran support the conservatives. It’s very important, so it doesn’t mean you can ignore them. They should have their activities. They should have competition in the elections — and many of the people, the majority of the people, want Islam to be alive in the country; although they do not have agree with the reading of the conservatives of Islam. But according to surveys that were done 8 months ago, more than 90 percent of the people believe in Islam as a social religion, not only a private –

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You want Islam to play a role –

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes. It’s very important, but I think the behavior of Ayatollah Sistani have a very deep influence over the government of Iran and over the population and over the community of Iran.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You think it even has an influence on the conservatives?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes, it’s very important. Because you know, when we were in parliament, we wanted to have Sunni, Kurdish to the board of parliament. Many clerics in Qom say to us — if you do that, we will give a statement against the parliament, but at the moment Ayatollah Sistani is supporting the Kurdish people, the Sunni people, the Turkomen and every other — even the non-Muslim people. They’re sharing in the government … So, it solves many of our problems that we have in Iran without any cost, so we are happy with something that is happening in Iraq and we welcome to that.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But what –

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Let’s wait and see what happens in the future. It’s very important.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The people who made the decision to disqualify you as a candidate for the parliament last year — what do they think of Sistani — of Ayatollah Sistani?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: What?

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The people who were responsible, the top people who disqualified so many candidates, don’t they feel threatened by Ayatollah Sistani?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: No. Why?

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, because he’s presenting a different image of what a government should be.

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: You know, Ayatollah Sistani doesn’t have any relationship with the Iranian politics right now — at the moment in Iran.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I know that, but it’s a different model. It’s a more inclusive model — what he’s suggesting.

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes, it’s very interesting for us and I said that this model that he suggested in Iraq and possibly he supports in Iraq — has its very deep influence over Iran. And I think anyway, the cleric in Iran have their influence over the community, especially in the villages and the small towns, but if Ayatollah Sistani (does) some thing in support of the democratic government and the right of minorities, to take participate in the government, many problems will be solved here and (it will) give us power to argue with many of the clerics — traditional clerics here in Iran that are against the right of women, against the right of minorities and so on.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: OK, let’s talk about the nuclear issue for a minute. You were in government, so you’ve been part of this whole debate that’s gone on about the nuclear situation. Is Iran pursuing a path of nuclear weapons?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: I think the major plan of government of Iran is not to have nuclear weapons and they are against that. They realize that nuclear weapons will not give us security and immunity in this world. It’s very important for world to know, but there are some radicals, maybe some of them in the government and military forces and so on — that they clearly and announced that ‘we should have a nuclear weapon,’ but this is not the policy of the government, including the leader, I think. It’s not the policy, but one thing is very important for us. The world asks us to guarantee the security of world by not having the nuclear weapons in Iran, but what would happen to our security in this region?

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: To your security?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes. When the United States government says very clearly that we want to change the Iranian regime, so why we should cooperate with the United States — for demolishing all nuclear activities here. It is not belief. I believe we should do our best with the IAEA and stop all uranium enrichment in Iran, because it’s not useful for national interests in Iran. It’s my belief, but when the conservatives and the radicals say those words, ‘what will happen to our security?’ Everybody in Iran will give right to them. You know, the only thing in the country, that a majority, a very strange majority of the people, support the government having the nuclear technology.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The polls are reliable — that the majority definitely, a large majority??-

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: That’s right. That’s right. So, it is some psychological things here in Iran. People here in Iran and especially in the government, want to know what is the collaboration of the world with Iran in the field of technology, in the field of economy, in the field of security and so on, so this is something that should play with that, but again, the reformists, nearly all reformists, think that we should build trust-building with the world — and the nuclear issues is something that will demolish this trust-building. It’s very interesting for us. To say to the people, to the world, we are ready to solve this problem in a mutual way, we should have something to earn.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You need to get something back — what do you want? What do you need?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: For instance, you know that in Iran is the most important geopolitical site in the … region. At the moment, the economical benefits of Iran are ignored by the West. For example, the (movement) of oil from the North to the South, they chose a very bad way, a very costly way for transit of oil of Azerbaijan, etc to the West. –

Why? To deprive Iran from its economical benefits…

It’s only one example. The other thing — when we cooperate with the West in Afghanistan, in Iraq and so on — what is our earning? We should rebuild our economy. We are need for new modern technology for more collaboration with the West and other countries –

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You want an end to sanctions?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: For investment in the oil and so on. And so, we have not a good response to that. And remember, that in last 8 years, the reform government in Iran was fully cooperating with the West and the world, but the response of the West to Iran was not so interesting. So, I think these are some things that have caused mistrust between us.

We should solve these problems. If a reform government take the office in the future, what is the manner and attitude of the west about this country? They want to support the Iranian people in the term of economy and education and so on. Are they ready to give a good position, a suitable position for Iran in the world? In last 20 years, we have been banned for joining the WTO by the United States. It is not understandable for us. We can’t understand why.

There are some things on the side of us that we should solve, but it is something with cooperation and co-working can be solved. It is very interesting and for people of Iran to know about the future and unfortunately, the West and particularly the U.S. policy about Iran put more pressure over the people of Iran, not over the government.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You mean the sanctions?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: The sanctions, the cutting the relations. For instance, many academicians in Iran want to go to the United States to work with their colleagues in the United States. They have [been] educated in the United States, but they have many difficulties for going there. And even many commercial works among us — so these problems make many obstacles for normalization of relations and for give opportunity to hardliners here in Iran to rise the hostility against the West and the United States. And many people give right to the conservatives…

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I want to go back on the nuclear question. You said that “there are some radicals that may be in the government who say we should have nuclear weapons.” Do they have the power within the government to be working on research that’s heading in that direction.

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: No. No. I think, as I said, the main policy makers in the government are against having nuclear weapons and they do not have; they do not want to have nuclear weapon, but there are many debates. Many radicals say that if you had a nuclear weapon, the behavior of the West was not as it is now. Look at North Korea.

Again, I and my colleagues in the reform wings don’t agree with that. We are sure that if we have some nuclear weapons, it doesn’t give us any security or any immunity — and again, it should cause more harm for the country. It is our belief, but there are some debates in the conservative wings, but anyway, I think the policy makers in the government, the head of government, including the leader, are against having the nuclear weapon in the country, but the nuclear technology is completely different. Many people; some people here in Iran believe that in economical point of view; in the cost benefit point of view, that nuclear energy is not useful for Iran — many of them, but many others say, it is a knowledge, it is a technology. You should have this. In the universities, in the producing energy and so on; and so you cannot ignore the right of Iran of having nuclear energy in a peaceful manner.

Banning Iran of having nuclear energy technology is something that many people in the government, including leader, cannot ignore, so the best way is cooperation with Iran to have nuclear energy under the supervision of the IAEA — or any other modern European, or United States countries. We announced that we welcome to the United States to engage with the nuclear program in Iran, so I think this is the way we can open and talk about.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What are the main changes you would make in government if you win the elections? You and the presidential candidate Mostafa Moin.

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: I think many potentials in the government not used by the President Khatami. The president’s power is much higher than what President Khatami has done. You know, the bureaucracy of the country is run by the president and his cabinet. The president has this right to demarche the government when they are against the constitution –

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: He has the right to what?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: To protest all activities against the constitution. This is the right of presidents and President Khatami do not use that. And when he use one or two times, it had a very deep influence over the other parts of government. We will defend the right of people … The right of people of having the freedom of speech, the free election, and many other things.

They are not easy and the conservatives will … will fight against us, but we think if we have a powerful government and if we want to do something we can. Unfortunately, in the last 8 years, many in the power of government was ignored by the cabinet itself. For example, the last election, last parliament election. We thought that Pres. Khatami (could have) not perform the election. 

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In other words, they should have stopped the election.

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: They should have not performed the election — and if they (did that), we were sure that the other part of government would obey them and would qualify many of the candidates who were rejected. So, I think, if the people see that the government want to do something very strongly, they will support it. And again, unfortunately, in the last 1-2 year, many support to President Khatami and to his cabinet were, abolished, were removed. Removed — support of government of Khatami, they removed.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: They lost — the government lost a lot of support because they didn’t push hard enough?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes, because they thought President Khatami is not so different from the others.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How do you explain the fact that your brother didn’t push harder?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: I think President Khatami was worried about the situation in the country — some riots, some chaos. I think we are not agree with him. We thought that if President Khatami resist more, many things could be changed positively, not negatively … and when the conservatives saw that President Khatami is not so serious in his plan, they come forward — and put more pressure on the reformists.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: They took advantage of that weakness?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Did you and your brother have fights about this? What was it like to be in the middle of all this?

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Yes, I believed my brother — and I think his mind and his idea is excellent, but activity and the manner of President Khatami was not so delightful for us. We thought that he should be more positive and more strong and more resistant. It is possible for us in the next cabinet to be that. I think in the moment, focusing on these potentials — not only in the political issues, but economical and social issues — is one of the main goals of us to do that.

For example, we think that privatization in the economy is a basic for democracy — and this is in the hands of the government — I mean the president and his cabinet — to do that. We should be more serious about the privatization, about the right of women, about the right of minorities in the country. For instance, we can have the government for many provinces where the minority are majority there, Kurdistan, Baluchistan and so on. We do not have even one governor, Sunni governor or Kurd governor in the country. It’s possible for the government to do that.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Dr. Khatami, Thank you very much for being with us.

DR. MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI: Thank you very much and hoping to see you in the future again in a better situation and to talk more about the development of social society and government of Iran.