Sunday, April 5, 2009

The President of Iran

The next three posts will be retrospectives of things that we have done over the last month and a half or so. They are horribly delayed, but that's life. I did want to make sure to note them, however, because they were fun and/or interesting, depending, and this is a journal for myself one day.

Last week, we went to hear the former President of Iran, H.E. Seyed Mohammad Khatami speak at LaTrobe University, just northeast of Melbourne. It seemed like a pretty good opportunity to hear a viewpoint from a part of the world that is often not welcomed in the United States in person.

The atmosphere was excited, but not tense. There was little active opposition. People were handing out flyers at the door describing some of the human rights issues that Iran had under Khatami, but even they were on good behavior. The shocking thing to me was that there was no security going in the door. This shocked me because not only is he a former President, he is running again for President. Turnout was huge. Sadly, the school doesn't have a lecture hall large enough for all the people that turned out, so it was shown by video in three adjacent lecture halls, all of which were still standing room. We were lucky to have seats.

Khatami's keynote was about the importance of dialogue in international relations. He was encouraging a more moderate, open relationship between all countries to try to solve problems. His keynote was generally agreeable - nothing he said was really confrontational to any countries, and was delivered in generic terms. It was good to hear that he thinks that conversations are more important than arms. The speech was delivered in parts through an interpreter, and since it was written in advance, it was generally easy to understand, as it was translated well.

There was then a Q&A period from the audience. Questions were asked about Israel/Palestine, nuclear arms, terrorism, and if Iran had the ability to engage in the dialogue that was previously discussed. The Q&A format was tough, because the moderator took 3 questions at a time, gave Khatami time to make notes about responses, and then he would respond via his translator. It was so on the fly that I think some things were lost in translation, but the translator was impressive.

Khatami was adamant that under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, Iran should be able to develop nuclear power plants as other nations can. I suppose there have been some dubious actions from that country in terms of development. Things like arms inspectors were not discussed.

Khatami's position on terrorism was very interesting, stating that extremism doesn't provide any gains for any party, and that dialogue was far more useful than religious extremism. He did make an interesting point that Bush's comments of "if you're not with us, you're against us" is in some way just as extreme (at the other end of the spectrum) as terrorism.

My general lack of understanding of the Israel situation probably didn't help me understand exactly what Khatami meant about there being failed policies, not failed boundaries in the region. That whole situation is something that I don't really understand.

On the Iranian dialogue, he indicated that he believed that Iran was certainly able to maintain dialogue with other nations, suggesting that the lines of communication were more open during Clinton's term than Bush, and that he would like to see communications with the US improve.

It was very interesting to sit there as an American "under the radar" as world politics were discussed. I don't know that the comments would have been the same had this conversation taken place at NYU. Two things that I did note: 1) Khatami stated that he wanted Obama to succeed and that the nation needed it (unlike some talk show hosts) and 2) he acknowledged that the Holocaust happened, unlike Ahmadinejad.

While I think there was slant on the conversation all night, and despite decidedly not being perfect, especially in terms of human rights, Khatami seems much more moderate than the current Iranian administration. It was very interesting to listen to, and I'm glad I had the opportunity.

No comments: