The black-turbaned cleric – who won landslide victories in 1997 and 2001 on the promise of restoring the rule of law, loosening social restrictions, and ending Iran’s isolation – will now be aiming to restore his political reputation while challenging Iran’s arch-conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The fight promises to be a clash of Iran’s political titans, between men representing opposite sides of Iran’s political and social chasm.
As Iran this week marks the 30th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution, it is locked in a nuclear stand-off with the West, under United Nations sanctions, and witnessing a severe economic downturn. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s tenure has also seen greater restrictions on human rights activists and contact with foreigners – both trends opposed by Mr. Khatami’s hallmark “dialogue of civilizations.”
Khatami was the first to reach out to the “great American people” in late 1997, hoping to break decades of deadlock with the US. The effort ultimately failed, though Iran’s next president will almost certainly play a key role in the next chapter of US-Iran relations – or lack thereof – as President Barack Obama seeks to engage Iran.