Khatami Was No Slouch

From the August 2005 Trumpet Print Edition

Conventional wisdom is that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad replaces a real loser. Iran had a two-term “reformist” president in Mohammad Khatami, but because he was handcuffed by the religious leaders, he achieved virtually nothing. “The people actually did test the reformists during the last eight years, but they didn’t see much from them,” said one 23-year-old Ahmadinejad supporter. “So people here decided to return to the people who are promoting revolutionary values and see if they can bring about change.”

It’s true that in terms of social and economic freedoms, the reforms Khatami squeezed through came far too slow for many. But in the larger geopolitical scheme, President Khatami was not the hamstrung underachiever many portray him to be. He actually pulled off a feat critical for the realization of Iran’s ambitions.

Under Khatami’s rulership, Iran effectively moved from being a pariah state—an outcast—to becoming a bona fide partner to many countries, particularly Russia and China.

Khatami’s visit in 1999 to Italy was the first for an Iranian leader to Europe since the 1979 revolution. Several other European nations opened diplomatic talks with Iran under his presidency. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw visited Iran in September 2001; Britain’s exports to Iran increased 144 percent that year. Even members of the United States Congress said they didn’t see any “axis of evil” and wanted a better relationship with Iran.

Khatami also stimulated unity within the region, promoting agreements with, among other neighbors, Pakistan and India—even, to some degree, Saudi Arabia.

It appears, despite the radical change in Iran’s leadership, that many of these relationships will stick. The world is too entangled with Iran to pull out. Immediately after Ahmadinejad was elected, Russian President Vladimir Putin affirmed his commitment to the relationship; other countries, including Japan and Pakistan, also vowed solidarity with Iran.

Khatami achieved a lot for Iran: He garnered the global support that enabled Iran to juice up its political and economic stature and strengthen its military, and soon nuclear, might.