Khatami defends democracy as core ``value'
By Jonathan Lyons
TEHRAN, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami reaffirmed
his commitment to democracy on Tuesday and dismissed charges by conservatives
that reformers were soft on religious and revolutionary values.
Khatami, a mid-ranking Shi'ite Moslem cleric, used the second part of
a taped television interview to assert the defence of democratic rights
as an important ``value'' in its own right.
In the first instalment, broadcast on Monday, the moderate president
expressed frustration at the weakness of his office but vowed not to resign
or abandon his reformist platform in the face of mounting set-backs.
``Values are important, but which values? I believe in political identity,
freedom to take part in the political process and to have the right to
decide one's destiny. These are values, not superficial impressions of
religion and trying to impose them on others as values,'' Khatami said.
``Defending the rights of the people is the most important value. It
is not possible to have a society whose people do not have the right to
rule over themselves,'' he added.
Since his landslide victory in 1997, Khatami has seen his vision of
pluralist democracy within Iran's Islamic system come under head-on attack
from conservative clerics who claim a monopoly on social, political and
WAR OF ``VALUES''
Hardliners regularly invoke threats to Iran's Islamic values to justify
harsh repression of the reform drive, including the recent wholesale banning
of newspapers, the jailing of prominent dissidents and even the serial
murders of secularists.
But the president, versed both in Islamic texts and western philosophy,
said Iran must now seek a new approach, one that could set the pace for
the broader Islamic world.
``There are three central issues that come together -- Iran, Islam and
the republic. These are three elements in our system, we cannot have one
without the others. We must have all three together.
``If Iran's brand of democracy succeeds, it will be an example for other
Islamic countries, including those under the domination of global powers,''
He also reminded his opponents that his government had presented a new
face of Iran to the West, disarming critics and extending Iranian influence
abroad -- an implicit warning that the recent crackdown on the free press
could undermine those gains.
``Special attention is now paid to Iran on the global scene. We have
to be careful that Iran's democratic image is not harmed. If that happens,
then our revolution will be harmed.
``Now there is almost no serious threat to our existence. There once
were military threats but now these threats have been transformed into
PRESIDENT UNDER FIRE
Tuesday's broadcast followed harsh criticism in the press of the president's
decision to give a taped interview with select journalists rather than
a news conference open to all media.
``With regard to his excellency the president...he is the only president
to have stayed three years in office without holding news conferences with
Iranian journalists or even giving exclusive interviews to the domestic
press,'' said the hardline daily Jomhuri-ye Eslami.
Even the centrist Iran News, which is close to the foreign ministry,
took the president to task. ``Has Mr Khatami forsaken the press?'' it asked
in its editorial.
``During the past three years, we have witnessed the incarceration of
many press people and the closures of newspapers. These are sacrifices
made in support of Mr Khatami's administration and his policies,'' it said.
For his part, the president -- an intellectual and former head of the
national library -- struck a subdued note under the strain of his office,
clearly longing to return to a life of study and contemplation.
``It is an honour for me to serve the people but I also like to have
a climate where I can read and learn.''