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The Wall Street Journal
Interactive Edition
May 24, 1997

Khatami Lived in the West And Expanded Entertainment

Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran -- Mohammad Khatami, who appears headed for a landslide victory in Iran's presidential election, has lived in the West, speaks two European languages and sees no reason why women shouldn't have senior positions in government.

Although his ideas on women, youth and the role of religion are radical for an Iranian cleric, Mr. Khatami is not expected to fundamentally change Iran's foreign policy or clergy-dominated politics. Mr. Khatami, for example, has ruled out improving ties with the United States, saying "this is not the right time for it." But that is a change from hard-liners who call the United States the Great Satan and say Tehran can never reconcile with Washington.

A former minister of culture, Mr. Khatami is credited with reviving Iranian music and cinema after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Although revolutionary clerics banned live concerts, Mr. Khatami allowed them. He also helped lift the ban on women singing in public by permitting a concert by the Iranian singer Parisa -- albeit for an all female audience.

Hard-liners removed him from power in 1992 for his liberal views.

"When he was minister of culture we had few problems with things like censorship," said Mohammad Razavi, owner of a publishing house in Tehran. "Now we have many."

Mr. Khatami, a hojatoleslam or middle-ranking cleric, would replace President Hashemi Rafsanjani whose four-year term ends in August. A victory for Mr. Khatami would be a setback for hard-line mullahs who have ruled since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Mr. Khatami's campaign was widely supported by Iranian youth, who hope for an easing of social restrictions, but was opposed by the more conservative clergy. They fear that he is not fully committed to the revolution and had instructed people to vote for his conservative opponent, Parliament Speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri.

Mr. Khatami, 54, has lived in the West and speaks English, German and Arabic in addition to his native Farsi.

Mr. Khatami is most popular among the youth, who hope that if elected he will ease restrictions on satellite television dishes and dating. He recently told Zanan, a monthly women's magazine, that he sees "no obstacle to women becoming ministers in the government." It is widely believed that Mr. Khatami would be the first president to appoint women in his cabinet.

Although conservative clerics often do not allow their wives to leave home without their permission, Mr. Khatami, who says he owes his success to his wife, says she is free to leave the house whenever she wants. Khatami has two daughters and a son.

He was born in Ardakan, in central Yazd province and has degrees in theology and philosophy.