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Iran's President Begins Second Term - 2001-08-03


Iranian President Mohammed Khatami will be sworn in Sunday for a second four-year term in office. The moderate cleric won a landslide victory in national elections in June, but he now must find a way to meet the demands of voters for greater reforms without offending the country's powerful conservative clerics.

For many Iranians, especially the young, Mohammed Khatami is a hero. They're counting on him to bring the country out of the isolation it has been in since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

In elections on June 8, Iranians turned out in droves and voted overwhelmingly for the soft-spoken cleric, giving him 77 percent of the vote, and, with it, a resounding endorsement to continue political and social reforms.

But as he enters his second term in office, the president must perform a delicate balancing act. He has to find a way to institute those reforms, but if he moves too fast he risks antagonizing the country's conservative establishment.

Political analyst Nasser Hadian of Tehran University told VOA the president and the voters are deeply aware a balance must be struck. "The majority of the voters demand more rapid reform, but with the configuration of political forces in Iran and the realities on the ground, I don't think that would be achievable," Mr. Hadian says. "And I think President Khatami's supporters would understand that. The only demand they have is a right direction."

Professor Hadian says Iranians will be patient if they believe the country is moving in the right political, social and economic direction.

However, Iranian-American political analyst Bahman Baktiari, of the University of Maine in the northeastern United States, says President Khatami may have difficulty convincing the young to remain patient. "The young generation, particularly among the student movement, has been very patient with Khatami and his approach," Mr. Baktiari says. "But there is frustration because Khatami and his reformers have not addressed social freedom - the ability to interact with the opposite sex freely, the backlash of public floggings in Tehran today. The Revolutionary Guards round up the young and publicly flog them for anything ranging from loud music in their car to interacting with women ... It is a backlash and is going to accelerate alienation in Iran."

President Khatami did usher in greater individual and press freedom when he first took office four years ago - a variety of newspapers flourished and dress codes for women were relaxed. But many of his attempts at reform were frustrated by the conservative clerics, who fear that social or political liberalization will weaken the state and threaten the legacy of the Islamic revolution.

Professor Baktiari says relations between conservatives and reformers will remain tense. "I think Khatami is going to be caught ... between the young and the conservatives," he says. "His instincts tell him that he should be me more accountable to the young, but his political judgment tells him that, if he pushes too far, the conservatives will even do more damage."

According to Professor Baktiari, the president's own advisers are also divided over how to proceed. Some want him to move ahead aggressively with reforms; others want him to be more cautious and try to woo the conservatives into the reformist camp.

Nasser Hadian of Tehran University predicts the president will take a cautious approach. He says he is likely to focus on improving the economy, in part because it's a less controversial issue. "Since it is less sensitive, the chance of compromise and consensus is much higher and, particularly in the areas like unemployment and inflation," Mr. Hadian says. "Probably the economic policies are going to be the least sensitive, then cultural and social policies and then political policies."

Analysts say domestic issues - providing jobs and fighting corruption - are likely to be high on the president's agenda in his second term.

But foreign policy, especially relations with the United States, will also be an important issue. Professor Hadian predicts President Khatami will take some initiatives to improve relations. But he cautions much will depend on what measures the Unites States is ready to take. He says at some point the two nations will realize that they have some important issues in common and that they need to take each other's interest into consideration.

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