IRAN'S NEW LEADERSHIP
MAY 26, 1997
Iran has elected moderate Mohammad Khatami, a 54-year old cleric, as its new president by a landslide. Although it is unclear how much power Khatami will have once he takes over in August, the election was clearly a milestone. It was the freest and most competitive since the Iranian revolution 18 years ago. A background report is followed by a panel discussion.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mohammad Khatami is a 54-year-old cleric whose surprise victory in Friday's election suggests deep discontent with the Islamic fundamentalist government that has ruled Iran since the Shah's overthrow in 1979. A former culture minister who relaxed restrictions on the press and cultural expression during the 1980's, Khatami was given little chance of defeating his three more conservative rivals when his campaign began.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
May 26, 1997:
A panel discussion on the election of Iran's new leader Mohammad Khatami.
January 30, 1997:
The U.S. State Department's 20th annual survey of human rights practices in 193 nations.
April 24, 1996:
House Speaker Newt Gingrich appoints a special committee to look into the Clinton administration's role in arms shipments from Iran to Bosnia.
March 13, 1996:
Twenty-nine leaders arrive at the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh for a summit on ending terriorism in the Middle East.
Browse the Online NewsHour's Middle East Index.
All four candidates were approved by the Council of Guardians, a group of conservative clerics who determined eligibility for the election. Their favored candidate was Ali Akbar Natew-Nouri, the anti-western leader of Iran's parliament whop received only 7.2 million votes on Friday, compared to the more than 20 million cast for Khatami. Although his support clearly cut across all sectors, Khatami was especially strong among women. He also attracted strong support from Iran's youth.
STUDENT: I'm very happy that Mr. Khatami is going to be president. Yes, I'm very happy because he's my favorite candidate.
STUDENT: Because he care about the young man, and I love him.
CHARLES KRAUSE: How much power Khatami will have once he becomes president in August remains to be seen. Iran is a theocracy, and according to the constitution, its supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Kahmenei, holds most of the power. Still, Friday's election was clearly a milestone: the freest and most competitive since the Iranian revolution 18 years ago. It was in 1979 that the Shah of Iran was forced from his throne, replaced by a little known Shiite Muslim religious leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni.
After years in exile, Khomeni rejected the Shah's attempts to westernize Iran. Instead, he turned the country into a fundamentalist Muslim theocracy, while turning Iran's foreign policy firmly against the United States.Just months after the revolution, Khomeni's supporters seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran, holding American diplomats there hostage for more than a year. Relations between the U.S. and Iran have never recovered. Many Iranians blame the U.S. for supporting the Shah, while successive administrations in Washington blame Iran for supporting terrorism and for attempting to destabilize its neighbors.
Last month, a German court ruled that Iran's top leadership was responsible for the assassination of an Iranian Kurdish opposition figure in a Berlin discotheque. And just last week Secretary of State Madeleine Albright again accused Iran of attempting to get advanced weaponry from China.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Secretary of State: We have been concerned about China's sales of chemical weapons, and yesterday we imposed sanctions on seven Chinese entities for their export of chemical goods and equipment to Iran, which we believe could be used in Iran's chemical weapons program. The sanctions are against specific individuals and companies and not against the government of China.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Iran's relationship with the United States was not a major issue during the campaign but Khatami did indicate that he favors more trade with the West, as well as more foreign investment. The country's economy is still recovering from a devastating eight-year war with neighboring Iraq, a war that left hundreds of thousands dead in both countries and severely disrupted Iran's economy.
Today, unemployment in Iran is officially put at 10.7 percent while, according to the United Nations, the country's population has nearly doubled, to almost 70 million since the revolution 18 years ago. Khatami will replace Iran's current President, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who could not succeed himself after two terms in office.