Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Notes from Meeting with President Khatami

President Khatami opened our meeting with his thoughts on whether it has become the human destiny to always experience conflict or whether we might experience peace. He believes that while war has dominated human society throughout history, it is not part of human nature, but rather has been imposed on mankind.

The greatest problem facing the world today, he said, is insecurity. It is not only in Palestine, Africa or Iraq; it is even in the center of the most civilized countries. According to President Khatami, “Either everyone has security or no one has security. We should fight the causes of insecurity, which are injustice and lack of understanding.”

The greatest injustice is humiliating human beings, which results in reactions, which is the reason we find that terrorism derives from violence. From one side, we see violence and humiliation and then we see terrorism as a reaction from the other side. If we want peace, we must understand the causes. He said the lack of justice, love and compassion has led to the situation we are in today.

President Khatami works for peace through religion because he believes that the soul of all divine religions is love and compassion. According to Khatami, if we refer to the spirit of the divine religions and do not allow superficial difference to cause misunderstandings; if we make a return to religions and cooperate in the spread of religion and if we encourage people to withstand the activities of those who wish to cause war, then our mutual concerns will be ameliorated.

In Fall 2008, President Khatami and his Center for the Dialogue of Civilizations will be partnering with the National Cathedral and Vatican to have summit in Washington DC in attempts to start a movement to bring together the Abrahamic faiths.

President Khatami also expressed concern for the situation the region is facing in regards to Palestine. He asked how we can expect peace in the region to be established when such atrocities are occurring. He said he was sorry that the U.S. does not want the United Nations Security Council to issue a statement against such crimes. If powers work and support justice, than we can attain justice. Terrorism is condemned, but the root cause of terrorism is suppression and humiliation and these must be addressed.

President Khatami said the U.S. is a great nation and its Constitutional Law is one of the most important in the area of human rights, democracy and freedom. It holds a high position economically and in scientific fields. Why then should violence and humiliation come from such a great nation?

He said American policies have been hostile toward Iran and these are the causes of misunderstanding and drifting apart. He tried during his tenure as president to take many steps to eradicate misunderstanding and he is sorry that forces on both sides did not wish to see understanding.

What has been happening in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine in the name of fighting terror has done nothing to stop terror. Today, extremists are more powerful than before the invasion of Afghanistan. President Khatami said he is afraid that the U.S. might have to arrive at a compromise with extremists in order to reach a settlement and this worries him.

Iran was happy to see the dictator of Iraq ousted, but selfish motives of the U.S. have caused more extremism in the region. It is in the long-term interests of the U.S. to change its policies. The U.S. can’t have double standards in its policies, such as depriving Iran of its rights to access to peaceful nuclear energy despite the fact that all international reports show that Iran’s nuclear program are for peaceful purposes. Yet, Israel has hundreds of nuclear warheads not being condemned; they are being supported. Such actions cause violence in the world.

He said we should focus on mutual understanding and dialogue. He said there is no problem between our two nations. The nuclear issue and what is happening in Iraq can be ground for better cooperation between the U.S. and Iran if these become the subject of unconditional talks.

He said it was very difficult during his tenure to have talks with the U.S. Iran was branded as part of the ‘axis of evil’ despite the fact that the country’s cooperation was the most important fact of the U.S. topple of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Violent-oriented actions result in violent-oriented reactions. Misunderstandings between the two countries have become even more powerful. Iran’s main policy still today is that it is willing to have such talks, but the U.S. has stopped them by making preconditions.

Robert Dreyfuss asked President Khatami to reflect on his term as president. He said that he believed in reformation. He distinguished reform as taking place within the system, not outside. When it is outside the system, it is revolution.

He doesn’t say the system is flawless, but the present government came to power with the peoples’ power. Power can be shifted. Is the soul of a democracy anything else than this? A lot of blood was sacrificed for this system. The reform movement seeks to strengthen the democratic aspects of this system through peaceful means. He believes that in the short time following the Islamic Revolution, Iran has taken great strides towards democracy, but there are factors that have impede the speed of democracy, like war, and we must be patient.

Larry Beinhart agreed with President Khatami that the ideals he expressed about religion – as agreed between himself and the pope – were wonderful ideals at the heart of all true religion. However, the historical record is that when religion acquires political power it is always as least as violent as any secular regime. He asked why should we expect the Islamic Republic to be different? President Khatami responded that religious wars and conflicts resulted in secular forms of government in the West. Secularism led to a reduction in religious wars. But war and violence still exist in a secular world. The two World Wars, which were more destructive than any other war, were in the secular West and at the hands of secular government. Therefore, we should not look for causes in religion. It is possible to set aside religion and still have violence and wars.

I asked about the offer made in 2003 that put everything on the table and what he thinks must be done in order to create the environment where such an offer and the normalization of U.S.-Iran relations might occur in the future. In his response, President Khatami said he was going to reveal a secret everyone knows – in Afghanistan, itw was cooperation between the U.S. and Iran that led to the toppling of the Taliban. He also said that Iran supported the U.S. destruction of the Ba’athist party in Iraq. He said changes in the policies of the U.S., particularly in the foreign policy, and in the implementation of more realistic policies in Iran would lead to better relations. “We can be hopeful and find factors that serve the interests of both countries. But, for success we need wisdom and being realistic.” Referring to both governments, Khatami said, “There seems to be an absence of wisdom.”

President Khatami also invited me to join him when he flies from Washington DC to California this fall to interview him and have a fuller discussion.

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