Iranian President Turns 67 Amid Tensions
Mon Oct 13
By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press Writer
TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's embattled President Mohammad Khatami turned 61 Monday, but with little to celebrate and much to worry about.
He is preoccupied with an ever-expanding feud with the unelected hard-liners who hold ultimate control in Iran's Islamic government and who have undermined his attempts to bring democratic and social reform. At the same time, he must answer to U.S. and world concerns over Iran's controversial nuclear program.
"There is no plan even for a family celebration today," Leila Khatami, the president's elder daughter, told The Associated Press Monday.
"My dad is so preoccupied with state affairs that he cannot spend much time with the family."
An intellectual once so loved by Iran's majority youth population that many women carried his photograph in their purses, Khatami is now losing public support.
The soft-spoken president, voted to office by landslide majority in 1997 and again in 2001, is blamed for failing to stand up to hard-liners who have placed obstacles in front of his reform agenda. Protesters, who regularly condemn hard-line clerics and support Khatami, turned against him in June, denouncing his inability to fulfill reform promises.
Caught in the middle, Khatami in July offered to resign if the people wanted him to. One month later, he admitted it had become harder for him to face the nation "because I feel many of the ideas and programs I sincerely offered and the people voted for have not materialized."
Khatami repeatedly complains he is powerless to stop hard-liners who have blocked all reform legislation, shut down more than 100 liberal publications and detained dozens of pro-reform activists and writers.
Khatami's two key reform bills seeking to check the power of hard-liners are in tatters. One of the bills aims to increase presidential powers to stop constitutional violations by hard-liners. The other seeks to bar the hard-line oversight body, the Guardian Council, from disqualifying parliamentary and presidential elections candidates.
The Guardian Council, which vets all parliamentary legislation, has rejected both bills, saying they were unconstitutional and against Islam. Efforts by Khatami and his allies have so far failed to find a breakthrough.
On the international front, Khatami has strongly defended his country, even as pressures have mounted following an Oct. 31 deadline imposed on Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency to prove its nuclear program was peaceful.
"We are ready to exert all efforts to ease concerns ... (about) the proliferation of nuclear weapons, which we are sure we are not seeking," Khatami said. "But we expect our right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy to be respected."
Part of Khatami's appeal has long been how differnt he is in looks and ideas from most other clerics. A pleasant smile, refined looks, a trimmed graying beard, well-pressed clerical robes carefully matched with flowing cloaks all add to his aura. Khatami is known to be so obsessed with tidiness that he nags TV camera crews not to wrinkle his robe when they put a microphone on him.
Unlike other Middle East leaders, Khatami did not have his birthday trumpeted in the media. Many at the presidency on Monday did not even know it was his birthday.
Khatami was born in Ardakan in central Yazd province into a conservative family. He earned degrees in theology and philosophy. His late father, Ruhollah Khatami, rose to the highest clerical rank, ayatollah, and was a prominent supporter of Iran's revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Khatami, who has two daughters and a son, spends his leisure time improving his linguistic skills in Arabic, English and German. He once headed the Islamic Center in Hamburg, Germany.
He is described by government spokesman, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, as a man who "opened a new horizon for Iran in the world."
"Demand for change won't go even after Khatami steps down," Ramezanzadeh told the AP Monday.
As Iran's constitution permits a person to hold the presidency for only two consecutive terms, Khatami will be forced step down at the next elections in 2005. He, however, is able to stand for president again four years later. http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20031013/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iran_khatami