November 20, 2003
Khatami Not Changed
An interview with Hojjatoleslam Mohammadali Abtahi Vice president in Legal & Parliamentary Affairs by Yas-e No, a daily published in Tehran.
Mr. Abtahi had been a very close associate of President Khatami. He headed the President’s Office conducting all the affairs of Mr. Khatami during the first term. Mr. Abtahi had also worked with the President when he served as the Minister of Islamic Guidance.
Khatami Not Changed
Hojattoleslam Abtahi, a prominent cleric, who allots special time to go through all the important websites, enjoys sipping cappuccino in his leisure time. It is through his assessment of the items in the Internet that he has come to some concrete solutions.
How’s Mr. Khatami? Do you at all see him?
When you inquire about a statesman, you do not possibly want to know about his physical well-being.
Well I’m inquiring about the Khatami of 1376 (1996).
Clearly, those intimate compatriots, who have all along been with the President see the same Khatami of 1996.
Are you positive?
Certainly I see him more in depth than that Khatami of 1996. There is a possibility that some complications of 1996 were not really vis……..
You mean to say that Mr. Khatami wasn’t aware of?
Yes. These complications just flashed his mind at that time. But today, he practically visualizes such attitudes in his tenure. It is a fact that although he is a statesman, is attitudes are not politically shaped, he remains a man of culturally oriented personality in the depth - not in the sense of their applications in decision making process. He has also been an observer of great contradictions in the issues between his beliefs and realities in the exterior political arena with such cataclysmic influence acting upon him that a totally different Khatami has emerged. Such influences have been ruinous to both his spirit and health.
Such contradictions have surely become more prominent now, haven’t they?
As an outstanding example Mr. Khatami, an astute figure, had been able to swiftly discern such contradictions that made him reluctant to stand for the presidential candidacy for the second term.
It is certainly a rarity in the political world of ours to see a personality who would seriously resist his candidacy for the second term at the time when he stands a 100 percent chance to be re-elected into the office and while having the full support of people who want him in. Definitely, as a consequence of ongoing ominous external disagreement, Mr. Khatami sensed that it was politically unviable to continue serving that he put up such an open show of resistance.
Don’t you think he was right in doing so?
Possibly, we are somehow muffled due to the fact that he had his ratiocinations for putting up his resistance prior to the announcement of his candidacy despite all pressures exerted in favor of his standing for the second term. However, this truth cannot be ruled out that he respected the decision based on consensus, which paved the road for his candidacy.
Were you a part of this consensus?
Where do you stand now?
Personally, in relation to my compatriots, I am still very optimistic.
Do you construe your decision as really hopeful? Or Do you still optimistically view decision?
No, I tend to optimistically view my decision. I try to present a positive construct for the decisions I have made. Therefore, personally I do not perceive that Mr. Khatami’s candidacy was a misnomer.
On the Second of Khordad?
Positively. I hold some views in regard to my society. I should add that surely being a part of that big world community certain trends of developments have been taking shape in our society as well as that of the world, which are thoroughly different from the criteria where leaders used to be the norm for shaping those societies.
I can sense the issue from the close that the most manifest difference is that the influence wielded by the executives is truly greater, which has somewhat faded the role of the leaders. The same thing applies to all other areas. Such a trend of transformation in the society can be observed from the perspective of the revolution. Were we to probe into revolution thoroughly, we would realize that the norm of power practice of the ruling masses was based upon communications, intelligence, information dissemination, disinformation and propaganda prior to revolution. Definitely, even today, propaganda plays an important role. However, we observe that the role of policy formulators has drastically changed. Today, it is not the policy maker that decides on inclusion or exclusion of the factors that would yield influence in the propaganda. This logic is based upon the influences of different sources of communication networks that shape opinions. Therefore, we see that the people in our world community try to see that instead of mass media taking a leading role in shaping the opinions of the societies, people make use of the media to shape the outgoing opinion from such sources. A number have succeeded in doing so. The Iranian society is not an exception to this rule. Should we now add the factor of Iran’s historical insight to this society, we will naturally arrive at a more serious conclusion considering the fact that the infrastructure of mass media in Iran when compared to many other communities around the world isn’t that real bad! Reflecting on Iran’s mass media, which has been trying to shape the opinion of masses, is on the decline as a consequence of the new dancing parameters - youth population, which forms the bulk of the society. The young society is exerting its influence on the mass media to bring about transformations in the policy making body.
As a natural process, we observe that under such new infrastructures and the explosion of inter-communication, the society finds a new definition - i.e. that society will exert its own influence and opinion and exercise power. Therefore, the obstacles, obstructions or any form of containment exercised by the ruling powers will have little effect and weight on the trends of development in a society.
Based on my personal analysis were we to opt for a person like Mr. Khatami to assume such a responsibility with minimum exterior interference in the issues of decision making, it would be of benefit to both the society and the nation. It is also possible that in this process, Mr. Khatami may have experienced some hardship. Of course, Mr. Khatami could have stepped aside to emerge as the hero of the nation. Were we to appraise Khatami’s role from Iran’s perspective, his measures have been constructive. Furthermore. I do not believe that Mr. Khatami is a self-conceited and haughty personality who would have no regard for his people and society. So, as the deduction goes……
"Some opined or still opine that Mr. Khatami was the cause for the disruption of the trends of events taking shape in the society and further adduce that had Mr. Khatami not coming to power, the Iranian community would have taken the course of action it deemed right."
Now before going into further details regarding such an argument, let’s straighten up the matter and put a straight forward question:
"Wasn’t Hojjatoleslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, the poor soul, elected to the office of presidency with the vote of majority in 1996?
And according to another interpretation:
"When’s this man called Khatami coming?
None of the two distinctive ideas propounded at this juncture convinces my ego. I think there is something of greater significance behind such a move of the people.
The people’s vote demonstrates this fact that they did not approve of the way things were being handled in the country.
There is yet another premise behind such a move.
People voting Mr. Khatami into office were trying to show their disapproval of the way government was handling the affairs of the nation during that period. They were hopeful that it would reach the stage that we are in today.
So, you want to tell me that people disapproved of the handling of the government and voted Khatami into office, yet they did not know what they really wanted - their votes was only a straight forward expression of their dissatisfaction and disapproval of the affairs of the day?
As a matter of fact they thoroughly disapproved of the existing status. Well, there are other important developments like the Second of Khordad but of the highest significance was the expression of their disapproval. I would like to state here that it was the Iranian people who brought the revolution to the crown of success. No one came from outside to aid them. The people became dissatisfied because of the way the affairs of the nation were being handled that did not guarantee the survival of the revolution.
Besides, people wanted other new things as well. Their demands all put together was the culmination of Seyyed Mohammad Khatami being voted into the office as the President of Iran.
People opted for an easy way for the materialization of their demands - to attain reforms within the structure of revolution through the expression of their vote.
So, can’t we conclude that people had the concept of what they wanted when they participated in 1996 presidential election?
I agree with you to a point but I am of this belief that they did not clearly know what they were after. Obviously, I think the whole crisis started at this very point because the people were not aware of the precise procedure and nature of the substitution of power. There exited no consensus. There was also a show of dissension. A diversity of people from all walks of life had conglomerated for the presidential balloting with a wide variety of demands.
So the possibility arises that with the diverse norm of optimism there was no defined criterion as to the direction of the changes needed to satiate people’s demand. What then …?
As there were no defined norms of the demands of the people, the situation became precarious even for the insiders like us.
When I use the term ‘us’, I am trying to say Mr. Khatami and his close associates. We believed that the election on Khordad 2, 1996 would have a second run and there, Mr. Khatami would have the opportunity of defining the direction of the new government with the help of a handful of aides. The aides would have been made fully capable of planning a course of action and direction to satiate the demands and remedy the ills after the elections by presenting a blueprint to the majority who had voted him in. The shortcomings of Mr. Khatami can be sensed here since such a thing never happened.
You want to tell me that things happened at the speed of lightening?
Yes. As an insider during Presidential election my perception did not go beyond what I said. I was really hoping that Mr. Khatami would have the majority in the second round unless the circumstances were such that he was not voted into the office. I was really optimistic that such an opportunity would avail for the campaigning team to present the manifesto prior to Mr. Khatami being voted into the office of President.
So, the people once again showed how unpredictable they could be.
It also demonstrated how much burden of hardship and crises had been imposed upon their shoulders.
Is it possible to elaborate on the outstanding characteristic of that situation and the disapproval of the people from your point of view?
The most significant cry of the people was the restoration of the humanly nature, the reinstatement of different aspects of freedom, focus on the needs of the people and their humanly desires. Possibly the best interpretation in this regard would be the restoration of his human dignity. I believe that majority of the voters on Khordad 2 wanted to see the reinstatement of human dignity as their hue and cry. They definitely wanted to see that such a status be restored and honored.
Prior to Mr. Khatami’s elections, the government policy was based on economy of the nation. When Khatami was elected the priority was not the economy. However, it does not at all mean that the issue of the nation’s economy was shelved and that the president did pay attention to such matters. What I want to state here is that people were after something else. The people’s disapproval was based upon the handling of the nation’ affairs where human dignity was not respected and seriously trampled; where they would live under the stress of insecurity; where they would suffer from being stripped of their legitimate rights and freedom. I do not wish to make a comparison between our country and those of other communities. It is but very clear that the mishandlings of the previous government in the issues related to human dignity, insecurity and the practice of toadying and subservience a historically known fact are the psychological factors that contributed to Khatami being elected as the President.
You want to say that people thought that according to you the restoration of human dignity within the frameworks of the ideology possible?
I think it would be wrong to assume that people grasp the philosophical concepts of human nature.
Definitely not but…….
Very well, we have to assess whether such a basic discussion could be feasible in an ideological atmosphere or not. I think I have the experience to tell you whether such a discussion is possible or not under the aegis of such past slogans as Islam can….well, we have to arrive at …..
You mean an answer…..
Yes. We need to arrive at an answer. Possibly, some of the crises were the consequence of such slogans. However, we did not have a ready answer for this kind of experience.
In practice, we have been faced with such a dilemma and deficiency. Now we need to ask ourselves this question whether the deficiency is a consequence of Islamic ideology or the result of our mistreatment and that the issue of religion is something else! Again we should try to evaluate the situation from the angle that it is possible there maybe other interpretations which we may have overlooked. Well, each aspect of such a discussion has followers and supporters. The laics or secularists hold that religion and governance are two separate entities. Allow me to abstain from committing myself to its positive or negative influence at this point.
Mr. Khatami and I hold that such incidents take place as a result of the diversity of interpretations of the religion by different individuals. Both of us opine that there is yet another perception of religion that can contribute constructively towards building a society in the areas of rationality and logic in order to bring about a change of behavior. A religious society could conduct its affairs and the government could take care of its business based on the school of rationalism and the rest based on the public opinion and decisions of the society.
As for the issues related to the nation’s economy, we had our outlooks as well. During the post revolution era, we experienced two kinds of economic policies - open and closed-door policies (even those who today accuse us of blasphemous acts, followed the same patterns of economic policies). We experimented both rationing economic system and private sector economic system. Well, this is a procedure, which needs to be evaluated to see which policy is in the interest of the nation. Were we to assess our norms in the conduct of economic affairs during this period according to our ideology, then we would surely come to this conclusion that our actions in this regard have been profane beyond all reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, some are unwilling to accept our deduction. However, they also believe that the governance of the nation should be based on an ideology. Further, they do not accept the procedure adopted by us for the conduct of the economic affairs. I believe that when adopting a procedure for the conduct of our economic affairs we need to take our national interests into consideration.
There happens to be another outlook for the administration of affairs of the nation. It is based on Islamic principle and outlook. Whatever decision needs to be made, it should be within the framework of Islam. So, whichever measures out of this context is regarded un-Islamic and consequently it must be seriously challenged and fought against even at the cost of the national interest for they deduce that our login is too weak to construe and assimilate its constructive aspects. Both Mr. Khatami and I outright reject such an attitude.
With such a diversity of your interpretations of religious perspective where is it leading the nation? Your interpretation of religion maybe solely yours? There may be other people who possibly and probably will not agree with you! Definitely such people exist in our society and they will continue to be in the community. Well, given such diversities, norms of democracy should be based on such a premise where people would have the choice and right to present their own concepts of thoughts. Well where is the whole thing leading us?
When such a diversity of interpretations exists, they are part and parcel of such an entity. The current differences are based on such diversities. Certainly, it is not a quarrel based on personal grudge! The whole tug-o-war among the circles is based on the differences of interpretations.
As the whole issue rests upon national interest, such dissenting opinions could lead to the disintegration of the sovereignty. What then is the solution?
The two arguments based on such thoughts embrace all aspects of diversities of opinions inclusive of the issue of national interests. One circle believes due to dissenting opinion on national interest the danger of internal strife on the issue of war is imminent! All the circles concur that war should be averted at any cost!
Do you believe that there is such a consensus?
Undoubtedly, all prefer to see that their objectives are attained without such a fight! As I have just told you that there are two outlooks to the concept of national interests. One circle believes that in order to save the country from a looming danger of war, military forces should be boosted up and fully braced up and that the people should be readied for such a crisis despite the fact that a military victory may not be viable. However, they opine that such a measure will create a spiritual atmosphere that will not only uplift the morale of the nation but it will also help eliminate the rival circle -trying to instill the norms of democracy and civil society. I really do not know whether this circle has followers and supporters! I am just trying to expound their interpretations on the issue of national interests. Naturally, under the aegis of such a concept, they do not visualize the difficulty in establishing relations with the entities, which are inherently opposed to them as a consequence of current development taking shape. However, my focus is on the current trends of development. At this stage we should try to disarm the opponents from taking such measures as to bring about total repressions that could lead international community to stand against the sovereign state of Iran and further involve and entice a country thousands of miles away, which has been in disagreement with us already our next-door neighbor. We should try to avoid taking all kinds of measures as the issue of Iraq that stirs it up to take initiatives that would spark the flames of war. We should seriously try to prevent such an incident.
The opponents of this trend of thought assess such an attitude is a kind softening up of the stance or giving in. They opine that such a measure would be very disastrous in terms of national interests.
So we have two parallel lines of thoughts!
As a man of religion, I am concerned that such perilous circumstance is not in the interest of the sovereign state and government of the Islamic Republic of Iran that could lead to the dissipation of religion to bring about laicism. This is specifically very true when people observe that everything, personal relations, behaviors, attitudes, thoughts and the like without any exception is looked at religious angle. Then, religion will be looked at as a whirlpool or tornado that sucks down or up everything in its path. This would lead the nation to reject religion all together.
The world has experienced such a trend of thought and surely it was so during the middle age. The society concluded that religion deprived man of the expression of freedom. So, people let religion slide into oblivion. It is an irrefutable fact that Christianity could not gain imminence in many communities around the world. I outright reject that this case can and should only be applied to Christianity and all the other religions are exception to this law! As an inborn instinct, man desires freedom. Iranians like many other societies have the potentiality of assimilating things that go with their culture. A clear instance in the history of Iran demonstrates that fact that when Iranians were converted into Moslems, they did not become Arabs! In addition, they imposed their own cultures on those who brought Islam to the land of Iran. The results of imposing religious ideology on every aspect of man’s life are obviously clear! For example, when some Iranians are maltreated in innumerable instances on the streets of Tehran or anywhere else in Iran on the excuse of not observing ideological norms, they are the same mourners coming out to participate in the religious rites on the Days of *Tasua and *Ashura every year. These people have not been imported from other places.
I believe that people want and have the right to enjoy a good life as well as a descent and pious one. I further believe that Iranians have the potentiality of enjoying both a good normal life and leading a descent religious life.
Well, what will happen if the other circle continues to impose its ideological will on every aspect of Iranian life?
If the people were forced to make a choice between the two - an imposed ideology and a descent free life, the majority of Iranians would want to enjoy both good life and freedom. It will definitely end with the dissipation of religion!
Under such a circumstance, where do you precisely stand?
It matters not where I stand, this is an inescapable reality, which occurs in all the communities around the world.
Well, I insist that you explain your position.
I defend, stand and live by the concept that I had earlier explained. I believe in this concept because of the fact that it stands to clear ratiocination and that is we should not and cannot base our personal interpretations in the name of Islamic ideology and go on to interpret that violence, terrorism, suppression of freedom in the society and disrespect for private life are not in contradiction with the norms of Islamic ideology (being imposed upon our society).
You very well know that the two parallel lines are infinitely equidistant. After the tragic event of September 11 as the turning point in the world history and the breath taking pace in the way developments in the different areas are shaping, we cannot go on ‘playing the role’ and assuming that different circles have different stances.
I think you will recall that I had earlier stated that people will not wait to see ‘our playing the two different roles’. I opine that the people have already opted for that role which Mr. Khatami had initiated and is a champion of such transformations. Should Mr. Khatami become a sacrifice at this altar, the society would not be hindered or prevented. I would like to give you an example of the different Internet sites. I think there are between 17,000 to 18,000 sites, which have come into existence within a period of less that one and half years and maybe no person has the exact statistics regarding the websites. Public opinions of the people in our society can be derived from these sites. It is here one can amazingly see the creativity an innovativeness of Iranians…..
How about the complexity of Iranian mentality!?
The generation gap can be clearly observed here. You know that web site creation and its programming is not the work of an ordinary person. It is the world of ingenuity. People will not wait to see what will emerge of the sides playing roles. They will go out their own ways. It is here that public opinion can be assessed. It is also possible to see some flaws in the system. This is quite natural. The two systems, the e-mail and websites happen to have their differences - one communication being personal and to a greater extend private and definitely bilateral while the other is open to public and general. In any society where expression of freedom is a norm, when an individual treads the streets, he is careful to see that others rights are fully observed. When such rights under the norms of social moral codes are not observed in the community, such moves stand to innumerable questions. Therefore, I would have one advice on hand that whatever belief one holds, the limits based on norm of social moral codes need to be observed as well. Such a transformation in the channel of Internet communications should not be underestimated. This definitely is an indication of a dynamic society that is in search of its place in the world community.
When you speak of a dynamic society where Mr. Khatami happens to be a champion of reforms and a guardian of such a norm, what are your outlooks?
In practice, Mr. Khatami has become a champion of such a cause whether out of his choice or not, I really do not know.
Anyway in such a new circumstance when Mr. Khatami has emerged as a champion in a dynamic society, he is drastically affected. In 1996, he should have been a champion of certain (causal) phenomena and in the year 2000, he should have been a champion of other causes of greater importance. Am I not right?
True. A guardian or a champion is ruled by the laws of the society and must also be answerable to the needs of the society. What is under discussion today is the qualitative and quantitative demand of the people from the government of Mr. Khatami, which is far below the ceiling of expectations. However, the minimum that has been achieved needs to be thoroughly protected.
Naturally, such a guardianship needs to be continually revamped and harmonized as a consequence of swift transformations taking shape in the dynamic society.
Has such a thing happened?
Should it fail to happen, the gap between his grip and that of the dynamic society would be widened.
Do you think he has been able to revamp his concept to harmonize it with this new phenomenon of the needs of the dynamic society?
I really don’t believe that such an adjustment has completely been made since you very well know that I am at the side of the helm. When I reflect on the items of website, I realize that the society is even moving faster and swifter - it is definitely expected to do so.
What will happen when the society is moving at such a speed?
I would like to remind you of this fact that at the time of this interview, I am speaking to you as an ordinary citizen, an observer who has not donned his official attire of responsibility.
You can surely forget the garb of your responsibility as an observer! Your official attire definitely dictates responsibility and restrictions!
When a person wants to have his reins over the society to see what’s going on, he needs to wield full control. Once he has attained such a position, he sits back and relaxes. He then completely visualizes how fast the transformations are taking shape in the society. Under such circumstances, he takes the pleasure of seeing the society move forward at a swift pace. He then adjusts himself to the trends of developments around the world. Well, it should not be forgotten here that should a sovereign state act in such a way that an alien adversary finds its way into the heart of the nation, then people will not step aside and divorce themselves from such a state of affairs. The ominous crisis will befall upon the people. Therefore, whenever the bounds of the people and their government become strong and the relations between the two are thoroughly harmonious and this foundation becomes unshakeable, the society will then reap the benefit of strength. Strength and power of the nation is not based only on the acquisition of mass accumulation of weapons. As we have noticed earlier in the revolution Imam Khomeini built power base on the foundation of the whole Iranian people’s backing - the people who lived with the idea of revolution for over two decades or those who believed in this idea over 120 years ago. Today, should we want to have the same status that Imam Khomeini enjoyed we should base our trust on the people and their full support to build that kind of power. Our philosophical premise in regard to the power of sovereignty must change! It should be based on the motto that Imam Khomeini had for the nation - "The people’s volition and wish" We can rebuild our political institutions based on the conduct and wishes of the people while trying to preserve the skeletal framework of the revolution. It is also possible that the methods of application for the attainment of people’s power base would somehow differ from the thoughts of Imam Khomeini.
It is said that when Imam Khomeini came to power in 1979, he had based the old Islamic traditional concept & philosophy with new outlooks, which resulted in the triumph of the Islamic Revolution.
Precisely. The late Imam fought reactionarism specifically in the seminaries. The voices of protestations rose higher and higher. I think under the current circumstances, we (the officials in the current government) face the same kind of perils and crisis. The late Imam intentionally used the term ‘Feisiye’ , the old seminary during his time to demonstrate his point. He said that when his son drank water from a glass, the others intentionally refrained from making use of the same glass to show their objection of the new outlooks that the Late Imam Khomeini was presenting in philosophy. They considered that glass unclean or untouchable. There is a hidden meaning behind such a disclosure. What it really means is that it was not the Feisiye seminary that brought this revolution but the new concepts based on old traditional school of thought, which the late Imam had disseminated during his seminary sessions. Therefore, in this context, I would like to draw your attention to this fact that the corpus, which did not bring this revolution, cannot be the basis of concept, thought and transformations in our society.
So, what has befallen this nation?
Unfortunately, the nation has become infested by those thoughts, which did not have any part in the revolution.
You are trying to convince me that with the thought and concept of Imam Khomeini we can give it a new meaning to it. Is this really what you want to tell me?
Precisely new meaning not his old philosophical concept!
Is it practical to give a new meaning to the old philosophical concept?
A new meaning can definitely be perceived and as I said by preserving the old skeletal philosophical concept!
You will have noticed that the gap between you and those in the other circle is ever widening!
Positively yes! It is based on such an outlook that I feel Mr. Khatami is embroiled in a tug-o-war between the demands of the society and the elements in echelon of sovereign government. He senses the strong pulls from both sides! Will he nip or stretch?
I think this relation should not sever to the point that Mr. Khatami is not forced to do so - to make a choice between the two - being dramatically pulled to a side which wields more power. This is the most challenging situation that Mr. Khatami is currently embroiled in.
How do you predict such a tug-o-war? Where will it end up?
(There was a deafening silence). I will leave it to the people in the society to draw a conclusion.
What’s your opinion? Is this where Mr. Khatami is ensnared?
A deafening silence again!
Will he finally nip to this pressure?
It would be one of the most ominous incidents to happen - it would be disastrous indeed!
Is this process in the making?
(a deafening silence once again) I would not like to comment on this particular instance.
Would you really prefer not to say anything about it?
In no way!
Well, let’s change the topic a bit and go back to what you had earlier stated. You stated that you are at the side of the helm controlling certain things and then you fall back to see the trend of developments. Well, when you retreat how do you really feel?
(Silence) Naturally, it would be befitting to retreat under certain circumstances. However, my conscious bits me and I try to convince myself by repeating the things in my mind saying that I have the national responsibility or truly it is my own responsibility as a top official in the echelon of power close to Mr. Khatami of guiding the government in the direction where the nation’s wishes and demands are attained, which happens to be a very sensitive issue for Iran. It is matter of national interest to support the loud voices of the people. I would like to give you an instance of how horrible I feel as an Iranian citizen first, then as a man of religion and finally as a top government official when the world opinion looks at Mr. Aghajari’s verdict of being sentenced to the gallows due to his expression of thought with disgust, repugnance and repulsion. As a religious man and an Iranian, on the one hand I cannot see eye to eye and I feel deeply concerned how religion is being interpreted and exploited to pronounce capital punishment for a person just for the sake of an expression of an opinion and I am further worried to see that what impressions the world will have of my society on the other. So, under such a deeply shocking and hurting situation when I raise my voice in protest as a top official of the government and as a member in an important religious circle of our Iranian society, I am trying to help my nation. When making a reference to ‘I’ it does not mean ‘my personal self’.
Well, such a stance must be permanent and unfaltering. Possibly six year ago, you believed in just one opinion.
Naturally, at times you need to have strong stance. As a politician and as a person who is dedicated and devoted to serving his nation constructively must remain firm in defending his stance. I think that I and the people like us were the first persons to have condemned the Taliban ways of thinking and the conduct of their religious affairs in the world. The reason for our outright condemnation of such a thought is that we are condemned to suffer more than any European or American taken into account. For, I see that the religion that I believe in, is presenting one of the darkest profiles in the history of the mankind. Such a profile is being presented for example according to Ben Ladan’s personal interpretations. So, you will realize that maintaining that stance of such objections has become a Herculean task from the viewpoint of emotions.
Had Mr. Khatami not been elected for these two terms, neither would the intelligentsia have been eliminated nor would the chain of killings been triggered
Well, the chain of killings had started prior to Khatami’s Presidency?
I do not want to say that they did not happen before. Maybe it will not have continued. The newspapers will not have been closed.
Probably newspapers would not have come into existence to be ordered to close!
Well, they are open today. Don’t you think so? We would have had no such scandals, clamors and hullabaloos to withstand such storms!
Mr. Abtahi, we are at a very sensitive juncture in the political history of Iran. And next undeniable fact is that we know that when we wake up every morning, our next-door neighbor is the United States. Third, it is the highly charged atmosphere about the normalization of relations with the United States. You know that as well the key issue of such the normalization is the question of Israel. Can you possibly give me this answer from the ideological point of view? Should we continue to hold the stance of non-recognition of the state of Israel?
As far as the issue is related to the foreign policy of Iran, I cannot conceive of an ideological stance.
The evaluation of our foreign policy needs to be based upon the frameworks of our ‘national interests’. This could possibly be stretched to the national interests of Moslem communities and the interests of the Moslems across the world. Otherwise, I do not conceive a framework within the country’s ideology.
What is this assessment?
You very clearly recall the motto of the Late Imam Khomeini was: The way to Ghods is through Karbala. What did he really mean? The Imam talked about the preservation of our national interests before anything else, which means: "When we see a person conspiring to transgress our nation, we should not overlook our national interests and engage our armed forces somewhere else and let our nation and country be harmed by an aggressor."
(Fight your transgressor in Iraq as your top national interest and priority and avoid getting embroiled in other engagements in any other place.)
How would you interpret the stance that the United States has taken to tell the world that the US recognizes both the state of Israel and the Palestinian State side by side?
It means that we should take this matter seriously and accept the Palestinians, right of choice - to do whatever they opt for and choose whomever they want. Well, I am talking about all of Palestinians both inside Israel and those who are out Israel. They have a free choice to select whomsoever they desire. I am not saying otherwise. This is the blueprint, which was presented by Mr. Khatami at the Organization of Islamic Conferences (OIC).
Would you please try to elaborate this point?
What this really means is that Palestinian people like any peoples around the world, based on their own beliefs, have the freedom to establish the kind of government they want and the world should respect their choice.
Well, the talks of the day in every circle is the United States
Little attention is being paid to the motto: The way to Ghods is through Karbala. Should we adopt such a stance that national interest is the priority and nothing else. What we learned in Imam’s School of Thought and Revolution was that we have the full responsibility to preserve our national interests of Iran before anything else.
Should we not adopt a new stance when we talk of national interests of Iran, we definitely have to note this fact that an adversary who is ready to do anything to attain the objectives confronts us?
Certainly. We need to do that. One of the most important aspect of such a stance would be to distance Iran from being directly endangered and harmed militarily speaking.
What do we need to do?
If we want to distance Iran from an imminent danger, we need to follow some criteria. As our objective to distance this peril, we have to accept this fact that changes have taken place in the map of the world. For instance, the United States is present on both sides of Iran-east and west. In fact, the United States is our next-door neighbor. Therefore, we can adopt a policy towards the US similar to those with other countries.
What needs to be done prior to the official adoption of the policy in papers?
That part of the daily routine belongs to the foreign policy planners; I am discussing the basis of such a measure in this context.
When you talk of adopting a stance in foreign policy, the lines of policy that needs to be cleared must be made transparent. Well talking of your faction (circle) are you fully prepared to formulate the lines of such a foreign policy towards the US?
The issue of normalization of relations with the US does not fall on the shoulders of this circle. The decision by this circle would not attain a practical normalcy. We should be realistic when we look at such a formulation of the policy. You know that the issue of relations with the US has been the subject under discussion for a long period of time and that the subject has become a national issue. We need to arrive at a national consensus. We have to see under what conditions, decisions and procedures are we made able to preserve our interests and protect our nation.
Your statement is too general!
Well, do or don’t we have relations?
Well, I was for opting relations in the two distinct cases-Afghanistan and Iraq. We did not face any problems in our foreign policy in relation to the War in Afghanistan and then in Iraq.
Now can we continue to practice the same norms of relations?
I really do not know. (Once again a deafening silence)
Whenever I see no response on your side, I think you sound like Mr. Khatami.
Yes, it is here that I would like to discuss in details about something else. As you have said it that will suffice.
Surely, you must have discussed these things with Mr. Khatami. As you had stated earlier the trend of development is so swift that you would prefer that we rather extricate ourselves from domestic politics.
I would like to tell you in private that things are happening in that direction and you very well know that any disclosures in the issues of foreign policy would possibly impair the measures being taken. We definitely need to talk about them and see in which direction we are heading. It is certainly not a decision to be made now.
What are the eventualities?
You should note over here that incidents create opportunities, which we should fully utilize. You will also realize that many golden opportunities had been lost. The loss of such opportunities has been due to different circumstances. However, let’s assess Mr. Khatami’s interview with the CNN and see the contrary.
You mean M/S Amanpoor?
The Iranian President, as the representative of the nation conducted the interview with CNN. It was a perfect work of the President at the time when the world media stood against Iran in the dissemination of news. A few months later when President Khatami flew to New York to attend United Nations General Assembly Summit, I met M/S Amanpour. She told when she was in Canada that people pointed at her saying ‘Khatami’ although they had regularly seen her on the TV for years. This shows how influential his interview has been which swayed the public opinion. A figure gives an interview in the name of his nation and this interview leaves positive influence on the people. I regard this as an opportunity. Definitely, Mr. Khatami did not want to make use of this opportunity and take it home to his household. It was the opportunity for the Iranian nation.
So, this was Mr. Khatami of 76
Yes, it was the Khatami of 76 with those opportunities. I can give you the exact statistics on the statements issued against him; demonstrations held to condemn his interview; crises that followed after the CNN interview; Friday prayer sermons that denounced his actions and numerous articles were published to criticize his interview with Christian Amanpour.
Well, such destructive crises in capacitated us in making use of the different opportunities to promote the national interests.
Well, it is just a side of the whole story
Yes, what I am trying to elaborate here is the titanic problems that Mr. Khatami has been confronted with during his six years of tenure. Even if he desires to do so, his proposals would get nowhere. If you recall we had gone through a lot of hardships. When Mr. Khatami was elected on the in June 1996, there was no European diplomatic mission in Iran. Our diplomatic relations with our Arab neighboring countries was either non or was at the low ebb due to strained relations. I can safely say that our diplomatic relations with these countries were in the worst shape that you can imagine.
However, three months after his being elected into office, the OIC Summit was held in Tehran. The OIC Summit in Tehran is regarded as the most effective and influential conference since its establishment. The European diplomats returned to Iran. Our nation became jubilant. This state of joy brought meritorious blessings to the nation. I really become despondent and disheartened to hear some people claim that Khatami’s political decisions and measures have not borne any fruitful results in or for the nation. Well, how can it bear results with onslaught of crises! Being a historical fact, people well remember the crises that Khatami’s government has undergone. As his close associate, I remember Mr. Khatami instilling a concept into our society, which I regard to be of great significance. He made us adopt constructive ideas derived from his rival faction (circle). This move would not be considered propitious among his reformist colleagues in his circle. However, he opted to do so because it benefited the nation. It is also possible for the rival faction to tell the current administration in Iran step aside and that they would finish the job themselves. It does not really matter. It is important that such a thing has happened.
In the second term of presidential elections, in regard to reforms all the rival candidates were more of a pope than the pope himself in their election campaigns. Of course, such a move by rival faction to hijack the election was based on the knowledge, which they had acquired from different sources that people were after reforms. Well, I think such instances show that Mr. Khatami has made great leap forward.
Let’s make an assumption that we were engulfed and inflicted with destruction in the war between the US led coalition and Iraq. Now were such inflictions to befall on the people and our resources in the national interests and of historical significance? We had earlier experienced such infernal crisis! Therefore, I am really thoroughly shocked to see Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) TV propagating such slogans in favor of Saddam as if we were his sweet heart at the time when our nation, our people, our resources, cities and infrastructures were systematically destroyed during the Eight-Year War with Iraq. We had tasted the bitter fruit of the flames of war. Had such kind of concept and thought been in power, where would it have led us?
Well, you are talking about the things that you have done, while I want to know what are you going to do? Then don’t complain about the opportunity lost! If you are telling me of the perspective that shall prevail over the nation, where do we stand in relation to the United States?
I would advise you to rephrase your question in a more general term so that I will be able to explain the situation.
Well, where does Iran stand under the current trends of development?
After the elections of Second Khordad 1996, at the time when the crises had not been as explosive as it is today, one of the regional leaders held a private meeting with Mr. Khatami and precisely gave him the intelligence where American had intended to hit the targets in Iran. He then told the Iranian President that the people of Iran should consider themselves fortunate for having him at the helm. He then reminded the president of a very important point. He said that the US did not care how Iran would have felt. But when they saw that majority of Iranians had participated in the process of a democratic presidential election without the rigging of votes, it reversed its decision. The US did not want to have a stand off with the Iranian majority. He swore to him that Iran’s condition would have been even worse than that of Iraq.
Under the current circumstances, where does the majority that supported Mr. Khatami stand were referendum to be held?
The current crisis in the society is a consequence of inadequate communication between this circle and public opinion.
What does ‘this circle’ imply here?
The Reformists. I do not regard such a political process a bad thing. What is important is the preservation of our interests. I am happy to see that the decision that we had adopted in regard to the war in Iraq was good. Two months earlier I had said that the happiest and the most blessed day in the life of all Iranians would be when Saddam is toppled. We are happy to Saddam go under whatever excuses of the United States, which I think Americans are right because our nation had experienced the pains of chemical warfare, human, mental and economic crises and the pangs of eight years of imposed war when our nation could not breathe freely due to the weapons of mass destructions. Definitely, the removal of a merciless inhuman bestial criminal calls for an occasion to celebrate.
And you are saying that American was the cause of his downfall.
Well we are glad to see him ousted as a very important political change. What I would like to conclude on this war is that the Iraqis will have the possibility of deciding their future themselves.
Do you really believe that such a thing will happen?
I predict that it will happen.
Will this also affect our future?
As we are quite ahead in the issues of free elections compared to other peoples of the region, there is little possibility that it would influence our nation. At times, we notice that some obstacles are created in the issues of elections, which I think are both meaningless and senseless. For instance, the number of newspapers when compared to those of the regional countries is far greater. However, I fail to understand certain things about our nation, which torments my mind. We happen to be first, really first in the issues of democracy compared the regional countries, the fact that we hold the highest statistics in the detention of the journalists - a point that should not be forgotten, and that we are capable of attaining expedient and desirable atmosphere through national unity to proceed on Mr. Khatami’s road map of reforms. However, we observe that we have radical profiles, at least according to the public opinion, who stand strongheadedly against any or all forms of reforms by making use of all the available resources and means to bring such a process to a standstill. I just cannot understand such a phenomenon!
You really do not grasp it? Or you just want to avoid talking about it!
Well, this is due to the existence of the two different circles with two parallel outlooks. That circle in the other camp believes that as the US is the next-door neighbor, we should stand firm, show the talons of power and display our strength through wearing a band or a sash around the head to demonstrate the might and show no political weakness. However, they fail to see that the nation’s power is based on the will and volition of people’s support! It can only be attained through their backing and nothing else.
Well under such circumstances, can any kind of logic support such kind of show off of wearing a band or a sash around the head! ?
Clearly, I just can’t comprehend such a move! Well, if you look at our neighbor, Saudi Arabia, a close ally and a friend of the United States frees over 5000 prisoners. We also see that Qatar holds franchise - first time in its history. Very similar instances can be observed in the far off lands. Well, when the US is so close to us -within reach and our being exposed to easy inflictions, we see that the bills, which would have given the president more power, are rejected in the Majlis (parliament). We observe that a prominent figure - obviously, when looked at the social angle it happens to be so - is seriously challenged and harshly treated when it come to the issue of reforms. Such a display of power is just to show that might is right. Well, I cannot comprehend the reality of such a thing. Well, I do not believe in the theory of conspiracy. But it is very strange to note that the people in the other camp are capable of foiling the plot that US runs a chain of four newspapers with a full bag of dollars in Tehran but are incapable of bursting the onslaught of conspiracies or at least try to make guess at who these people are creating crises after crises with no end to be seen during the two terms of Mr. Khatami’s presidency.
Can’t you give it a try and make a guess yourself?
You know that since I don’t have any source of information, I don’t know it. Definitely, those conspiring figures cannot be associated with any elements, who happen to be foreign adversaries. I was also of the belief that those who were detained were not informants and at no time was it proved during the preliminary investigations. It was also proved that no such bag, full of American dollars existed or was given to the four newspapers. While those who made such accusations against the four newspapers were neither charged nor summoned to the court for cross-examination!
What will happen next now that that those two bills, which would have empowered the president to conduct the affairs of the nation in facility, have been rejected?
It is really difficult to provide this answer.
Had you been expecting such a move as the Vice President in Legal and Parliamentary affairs?
I hope that with the new consultations that I have been conducting, we will be able…….
Well, again this is a general answer!
Let’s continue conducting these consultations and see how things will shape up.
Do you really think you will be able to plod ahead?
I really hope everything goes well. The consultations will have to continue. Let’s be optimistic.