Is Khatami the Elusive Iranian Moderate?

Are some among the leadership of Iran beginning to question that country’s support of Hezbollah and other extremist groups beyond Iran’s borders? Notably, the Committee on the Present Danger, among the most influential organizations pushing the neoconservative foreign policy agenda in recent years, suggests as much in its latest Iran Update:

Ever since the 1979 revolution that created the Islamic Republic of Iran, its radical regime has worked hard to “export the revolution” – to promote Iran’s aggressive brand of Shi’a political Islam beyond its borders. . . . But now, a member of the regime’s inner circle apparently has called that agenda into question.

“What did Imam Khomeini mean by exporting the revolution?” former president Mohammad Khatami asked in reference to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic’s founder, during a sermon in early May. “Did he mean that we take up arms, that we blow up places in other nations and we create groups to carry out sabotage in other countries?”

Predictably, Khatami’s words touched off a political firestorm. The conservative Kayhan newspaper accused the former president of tarnishing the “shining reputation of the Islamic Republic” and providing fodder for “baseless accusations” against Iran by the United States and other Western powers. So, too, have more than a few Iranian politicians, who are supposedly planning to lodge a formal protest against Khatami with Iran’s feared intelligence ministry.

. . . So it’s not at all surprising that Khatami already has backed away from his own questions. . .

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told an influential Washington audience last October that he has been searching for “the elusive Iranian moderate” for nearly three decades, to no avail. In the end, Khatami may not fit the bill. But his willingness to question the sacred cows of Iranian foreign policy, and to do so just as Tehran’s mischief grows more visible in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq, suggests that at least some in Tehran may be starting to have a change of ideological heart. . . .

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