Little known until that point, Khatami attracted global attention during his first election to the presidency when he received almost 70% of the vote. Khatami had run on a platform of liberalization and reform. During his two terms as president, Khatami advocated freedom of expression, tolerance and civil society, constructive diplomatic relations with other states including those in Asia and the European Union, and an economic policy that supported a free market and foreign investment.
Khatami is known for his proposal of Dialogue Among Civilizations. The United Nations proclaimed the year 2001 as the United Nations' Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations, on Khatami's suggestion.
On 8 February 2009, Khatami announced that he would run in the 2009 presidential election. On 16 March, he announced he was withdrawing from the race in favor of his long-time friend and adviser, former Prime Minister of Iran, Mir-Hossein Mousavi.
In October 2009, the award committee of the Global Dialogue Prize declared Dariush Shayegan and Mohammad Khatami as joint winners of the inaugural award, "for their work in developing and promoting the concept of a 'dialogue among cultures and civilizations' as new paradigm of cultural subjectivity and as new paradigm of international relations". The Global Dialogue Prize is one of the world's most significant recognitions for research in the Humanities, honoring "excellence in research and research communication on the conditions and content of a global intercultural dialogue on values". In January 2010, Mohammad Khatami stated that "he was not in the position to accept the award", and the prize was given to Dariush Shayegan alone. Currently the Iranian media are forbidden on the orders of Tehran's prosecutor from publishing pictures of Khatami, or quoting his words, on account of his support for the defeated reformist candidates in the disputed 2009 re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Khatami was born on 29 September 1943, in the small town of Ardakan, in Yazd Province. Khatami holds the title of Sayyid, which means that he is a direct patrilineal descent from Muhammad. He married Zohreh Sadeghi, daughter of a famous professor of religious law, and niece of Musa al-Sadr, in 1974 (at the age of 31). They have two daughters and one son: Leila (born 1975), Narges (born 1980), and Emad (born 1988).
Khatami's father, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khatami, was a high-ranking cleric and the Khatib (the one who delivers the sermon for Friday prayers) in the city of Yazd in the early years of the Iranian Revolution. Like his father, Khatami rose to local prominence when he became an Ayatollah.
Khatami's brother, Mohammad-Reza Khatami, was elected as Tehran's first member of parliament in the 6th term of parliament, during which he served as deputy speaker of the parliament. He also served as the secretary-general of Islamic Iran Participation Front (Iran's largest reformist party) for several years. Mohammad Reza is married to Zahra Eshraghi, granddaughter of Ruhollah Khomeini (founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran) who is a feminist human rights activist.
Khatami's other brother, Ali Khatami, a businessman with a master's degree in Industrial Engineering from Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, served as the President's Chief of Staff during President Khatami's second term in office, where he kept an unusually low profile.
Khatami's eldest sister, Fatemeh Khatami, was elected as the first representative of the people of Ardakan (Khatami's hometown) in 1999 city council elections.
Mohammad Khatami is not related to Ahmad Khatami, a hardline cleric and Provisional Friday Prayer Leader of Tehran.
Mohammad Khatami received a B.A. in Western philosophy at Isfahan University, but left academia while studying for a master's degree in educational sciences at Tehran University and went to Qom to complete his previous studies in Islamic sciences. He studied there for seven years and completed the courses to the highest level, Ijtihad. After that, he went to Germany to chair the Islamic Centre in Hamburg from 1978 to 1980.
Before serving as president, Khatami had been a representative in the parliament from 1980 to 1982, supervisor of the Kayhan Institute, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance (1982–1986), and then for a second term from 1989 to 24 May 1992 (when he resigned), the head of the National Library of Iran from 1992 to 1997, and a member of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution. He is also a member and chairman of the Central Council of the Association of Combatant Clerics. Besides his native language Persian, Khatami speaks Arabic, English, and German.
Running on a reform agenda, Khatami was elected president on 23 May 1997, in what many have described as a remarkable election. Voter turnout was nearly 80%. Despite limited television airtime, most of which went to conservative Speaker of Parliament and favored candidate Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, Khatami received 70 percent of the vote. "Even in Qom, the center of theological training in Iran and a conservative stronghold, 70% of voters cast their ballots for Khatami." He was re-elected on 8 June 2001 for a second term and stepped down on 3 August 2005 after serving his maximum two consecutive terms according to the Islamic Republic's constitution.
Khatami supporters have been described as a "coalition of strange bedfellows, including traditional leftists...business leaders who wanted the state to open up the economy and allow more foreign investment" and "women and younger voters".
The day of his election, 2 Khordad, 1376, in the Iranian calendar, is regarded as the starting date of "reforms" in Iran. His followers are therefore usually known as the "2nd of Khordad Movement".
Khatami is regarded as Iran's first reformist president, since the focus of his campaign was on the rule of law, democracy and the inclusion of all Iranians in the political decision-making process. However, his policies of reform led to repeated clashes with the hardline and conservative Islamists in the Iranian government, who control powerful governmental organizations like the Guardian Council, whose members are appointed by the Supreme Leader. Khatami lost most of those clashes, and by the end of his presidency many of his followers had grown disillusioned with him.
As President, according to the Iranian political system, Khatami was outranked by the Supreme Leader. Thus, Khatami had no legal authority over key state institutions: the armed forces, the police, the army, the revolutionary guards, the state radio and television, the prisons, etc. (See Politics of Iran).
Khatami presented the so-called "twin bills" to the parliament during his term in office, these two pieces of proposed legislation would have introduced small but key changes to the national election laws of Iran and also presented a clear definition of the president's power to prevent constitutional violations by state institutions. Khatami himself described the "twin bills" as the key to the progress of reforms in Iran. The bills were approved by the parliament but were eventually vetoed by the Guardian Council.
Khatami's economic policies followed the previous government's commitment to industrialization. At a macro-economic level, Khatami continued the liberal policies that Rafsanjani had embarked on in the state's first five-year economic development plan (1990–1995). On 10 April 2005, Khatami cited economic development, large-scale operations of the private sector in the country's economic arena and the six percent economic growth as among the achievements of his government. He allocated $5 billion to the private sector for promoting the economy, adding that the value of contracts signed in this regard has reached $10 billion.
A year into his first term as president of Iran, Khatami acknowledged Iran's economic challenges, stating that the economy was, "chronically ill...and it will continue to be so unless there is fundamental restructuring".
For much of his first term, Khatami saw through the implementation of Iran's second five-year development plan. On 15 September 1999, Khatami presented a new five-year plan to the Majlis. Aimed at the period from 2000 to 2004, the plan called for economic reconstruction in a broader context of social and political development. The specific economic reforms included "an ambitious program to privatize several major industries ... the creation of 750,000 new jobs per year, average annual real GDP growth of six percent over the period, reduction in subsidies for basic commodities...plus a wide range of fiscal and structural reforms". Unemployment remained a major problem, with Khatami's five-year plan lagging behind in job creation. Only 300,000 new jobs were created in the first year of the plan, well short of the 750,000 that the plan called for. The 2004 World Bank report on Iran concludes that "after 24 years marked by internal post-revolutionary strife, international isolation, and deep economic volatility, Iran is slowly emerging from a long period of uncertainty and instability".
At the macroeconomic level, real GDP growth rose from 2.4 percent in 1997 to 5.9 percent in 2000. Unemployment was reduced from 16.2 percent of the labor force to less than 14 percent. The consumer price index fell to less than 13 percent from more than 17 percent. Both public and private investments increased in the energy sector, the building industry, and other sectors of the country's industrial base. The country's external debt was cut from $12.1 billion to $7.9 billion, its lowest level since the Iran-Iraq cease-fire. The World Bank granted $232 million for health and sewage projects after a hiatus of about seven years. The government, for the first time since the 1979 wholesale financial nationalization, authorized the establishment of two private banks and one private insurance company. The OECD lowered the risk factor for doing business in Iran to four from six (on a scale of seven).
The government's own figures put the number of people under the absolute poverty line in 2001 at 15.5 percent of the total population — down from 18 percent in 1997, and those under relative poverty at 25 percent, thus classifying some 40 percent of the people as poor. Private estimates indicate higher figures.
Among 155 countries in a 2001 world survey, Iran under Khatami was 150th in terms of openness to the global economy. On the United Nations' Human Development scale, Iran ranked 90th out of 162 countries, only slightly better than its previous position at 97 out of 175 countries four years earlier. The overall risk of doing business in Iran improved only marginally from "D" to "C". One of his economic strategy was on the basis of absorbing foreign and domestic capital resources for privatization the economy. Therefore, in 2001, the organization of privatization established. Also the government encourages people to buy shares in the private companies by providing incentives. Also Iran succeed to convince the World Bank to approve loans totaling 432 billion dollar to the country.
During Khatami's presidency, Iran's foreign policy began a process of moving from confrontation to conciliation. In Khatami's notion of foreign policy, there was no "clash of civilizations", he favoured instead a "dialogue among civilizations". Relations with the US remained marred by mutual suspicion and distrust, but during Khatami's two terms, Tehran increasingly made efforts to play a greater role in the Persian Gulf region and beyond.
As President, Khatami met with many then influential figures including Pope John Paul II, Koichiro Matsuura, Jacques Chirac, Johannes Rau, Vladimir Putin, Abdulaziz Bouteflika, Mahathir Mohamad and Hugo Chávez. In 2003 Khatami refused to meet militant Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. However, Khatami attended Hafez Assad's funeral in 2000 and told new Syrian president Bashar Assad that "the Iranian government and people would stand by and support him".
On 8 August 1998 the Taliban massacred 4,000 Shias in the town of Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. It also attacked and killed 11 Iranian diplomats with an Iranian journalist among them. The rest of the diplomats were taken hostage. Ayatollah Khamanei ordered the amassing of troops near the Iran Afghanistan border to enter Afghanistan and fight the Taliban. Over 70,000 Iranian troops were placed along the borders of Afghanistan. Khatami halted the invasion and looked to the UN for help. Soon he was placed in talks. Later Iran entered negotiations with the Taliban, the diplomats were released. Khatami and his advisers had managed to keep Iran from entering war with the Taliban.
After the 2003 earthquake in Bam, the Iranian government rebuffed Israel's offer of assistance. On 8 April 2005, Khatami sat near Iranian-born Israeli President Moshe Katsav during the funeral of Pope John Paul II because of alphabetical order. Later, Katsav shook hands and spoke with Khatami. Katsav himself is in origin an Iranian Jew, and from a part of Iran close to Khatami's home; he stated that they had spoken about their home province. That would make this incident the first official political contact between Iran and Israel since diplomatic ties were severed in 1979.
However, after he returned to Iran, Khatami was subject to harsh criticism from conservatives for having "recognised" Israel by speaking to its president. Subsequently, the country's state-run media reported that Khatami strongly denied shaking hands and chatting with Katsav. In 2003 Iran approached the United States with proposals to negotiate all outstanding issues including the nuclear issue and a two-state settlement for Israel and the Palestinians.
From 1995 to 2005, Khatami's administration successfully reduced the rate of fall in the value of the Iranian rial bettering even the record of Mousavi. Nevertheless, the currency continued to fall from 2,046 to 9,005 to the U.S. dollar during his term as president.
In February 2004, Parliament elections, the Guardian Council banned thousands of candidates, including most of the reformist members of the parliament and all the candidates of the Islamic Iran Participation Front party from running. This led to a win by the conservatives of at least 70% of the seats. Approximately 60% of the eligible voting population participated in the elections.
Khatami recalled his strong opposition against holding an election his government saw as unfair and not free. He also narrated the story of his visit to the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, together with the Parliament's spokesman (considered the head of the legislature) and a list of conditions they had handed him before they could hold the elections. The list, he said, was then passed on to the Guardian Council, the legal supervisor and major obstacle to holding free and competitive elections in recent years. The members of the Guardian Council are appointed directly by the Supreme Leader and were considered to be applying his will. "But", Khatami said, "the Guardian Council kept neither the Supreme Leader's nor its own word [...] and we were faced with a situation in which we had to choose between holding the election or risking huge unrest [...] and so damaging the regime". At this point, student protesters repeatedly chanted the slogan "Jannati is the nation's enemy", referring to the chairman of the Guardian Council. Khatami replied, "If you are the representative of the nation, then we are the nation's enemy". However, after a clarification by students stating that "Jannati, not Khatami", he took advantage of the opportunity to claim a high degree of freedom in Iran.
When the Guardian Council announced the final list of candidates on 30 January, 125 reformist members of parliament declared that they would boycott the election and resign their seats, and the Reformist interior minister declared that the election would not be held on the scheduled date, 20 February. However, Khatami then announced that the election would be held on time, and he rejected the resignations of his cabinet ministers and provincial governors. These actions paved the way for the election to be held and signaled a split between the radical and moderate wings of the reformist movement.
Following earlier works by renowned philosopher Dariush Shayegan, President Khatami introduced the theory of Dialogue Among Civilizations as a response to Samuel P. Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" theory. After introducing the concept of his theory in several international societies—most importantly the United Nations—the theory gained a lot of international support.
Consequently, the United Nations proclaimed the year 2001 as the United Nations' Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations, as per Khatami's suggestion. Pleading for the moralization of politics, Khatami argued that "the political translation of dialogue among civilizations would consist in arguing that culture, morality, and art must prevail on politics". President Khatami's call for a dialogue among civilizations elicited a published reply from an American author, Anthony J. Dennis, who served as the originator, contributor, and editor of an historic and unprecedented collection of letters addressing all facets of Islamic-Western and U.S.–Iranian relations entitled Letters to Khatami: A Reply To The Iranian President's Call For A Dialogue Among Civilizations which was published in the U.S. by Wyndham Hall Press in July 2001. To date, this book is the only published reply Khatami has ever received from the West.
Khatami believes that the nowadays world in which we live is such that he Iranian youth is confronted with new Ideas and receptive of alien habits. He also believes that the limitation on the youth leads to separation of them from regime and calling them into satanic cultures. He predicted that even worse that, the youth will learn and accept the MTV culture. This fact leads to secularize tendency.
In terms of Islamic values, Mohammad Khatami encouraged film makers to extend the notions such as self-sacrifice, martyrdom, and revolutionary patience. We could see such a notion in films in which most of those expression explained. When Khatami was the minister of culture believes that cinema in not the mosque and it is necessary to pay attention to entertaining aspects of cinema and not limiting it to religious aspect.
Khatami's main research field is political philosophy. One of Khatami's academic mentors was Javad Tabatabaei, an Iranian political philosopher. Later on Khatami became a University lecturer at Tarbiat Modarres University, where he taught political philosophy. Khatami also published a book on political philosophy in 1999. The ground he covers is the same as that covered by Javad Tabatabaei: The Platonizing adaptation of Greek political philosophy by Farabi (died 950), its synthesis of the "eternal wisdom" of Persian statecraft by Abu'l-Hasan Amiri (died 991) and Mushkuya Razi (died 1030), the juristic theories of al-Mawardi and Ghazali, and Nizam al-Mulk's treatise on statecraft. He ends with a discussion of the revival of political philosophy in Safavid Isfahan in the second half of the 17th century.
Further, Khatami shares with Tabatabaei the idea of the "decline" of Muslim political thought beginning at the very outset, after Farabi.
Like Tabatabaei, Khatami brings in the sharply contrasting Aristotelian view of politics to highlight the shortcomings of Muslim political thought. Khatami has also lectured on the decline in Muslim political thought in terms of the transition from political philosophy to royal policy (siyasat-i shahi) and its imputation to the prevalence of "forceful domination" (taghallub) in Islamic history.
In his "Letter for Tomorrow", he wrote:
It seems that Khatami had commitment to reforming the systems. He tries to change the political currents of the country. At the same time he wants to add new controversial dimensions to the public discussions. Of course his administrations could not provide the wide range of social and political reforms promised. .
Of course He tries to make in tune the Islamic government with the aspirations of Iranian people.However it can be said that the movement of Khatami was a continuation of two earlier movements namely constitutional revolution and Islamic revolution in 1979 against Pahlavi regime. These revolutions are welcoming to modernity.
After his presidency, Khatami founded two NGOs which he currently heads:International Institute for Dialogue among Cultures & Civilizations. In Persian: موسسه بین المللی گفتگوی فرهنگها و تمدنها. This institute is a private (non-governmental) institute that was founded by Khatami after the end of his presidency and it is not to be confused with a center with a similar name operated by the foreign ministry of Iran. The European branch of Khatami's institute is headquartered in Geneva and has been registered as Foundation for Dialogue among Civilizations.
Baran Foundation. BARAN meaning "rain" is an acronym in Persian for "Foundation for Freedom, Growth and Development of Iran" (Persian: بنیاد آزادی، رشد و آبادانی ایران - باران). This is also a private (non-governmental) institute founded by Khatami after the end of his presidency (registration announced on 9 September 2005) and a group of his former colleagues during his presidency. This institute is focused on domestic rather than international activities.
Notable events in Khatami's career after his presidency include:On 2 September 2005, the then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Mohammad Khatami as a member of the Alliance of Civilizations.
On 28 September 2005, Khatami retired after 29 years of service in the government.
On 14 November 2005, Mohammad Khatami urged all religious leaders to fight for the abolishment of atomic and chemical weapons.
On 30 January 2006, Mohammad Khatami officially inaugurated the office of the "International Institute of Dialogue Among Civilizations", an NGO with offices in Iran and Europe that he will be heading, after his retirement from the government.
On 15 February 2006, during a press interview Mohammad Khatami announced the formal registration of the European office of his Institute for Dialogue among Civilizations in Geneva.
On 28 February 2006, while attending a conference of the Alliance of Civilizations at Doha, Qatar, he stated that "The Holocaust is a historical fact." However, he added that Israel has "made a bad use of this historic fact with the persecution of the Palestinian people."
On 7 September 2006, during a visit to Washington, Mohammad Khatami called for dialogue between the United States and Iran.
On 24–28 January 2007, Mohammad Khatami attended the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton, then U.S. Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney and the then U.S. Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell were among those attending. Khatami and Senator John Kerry have expressed similar opinions and shared words with each other in the World Economic Forum in Davos.
On 22 December 2005, a few months after the end of Khatami's presidency, the monthly magazine Chelcheragh, along with a group of young Iranian artists and activists, organized a ceremony in Khatami's honor. The ceremony was held on Yalda night at Tehran's Bahman Farhangsara Hall. The ceremony, titled "A Night with The Man with the Chocolate Robe" by the organizers, was widely attended by teenagers and younger adults. One of the presenters and organizers of the ceremony was Pegah Ahangarani, a popular young Iranian actress. The event did not get a lot of advance publicity, but it drew a huge amount of attention afterwards. In addition to formal reports on the event by the BBC, IRNA, and other major news agencies, googling the term "مردی با عبای شکلاتی" ("The Man with the Chocolate Robe" in Persian) shows thousands of results of mainly young Iranians' blogs mentioning the event. It was arguably the first time in the history of Iran that an event in such fashion was held in honor of a head of government. Some weblog reports of the evening described the general atmosphere of the event as "similar to a concert!", and some reported that "Khatami was treated like a pop star" among the youth and teenagers in attendance during the ceremony. Many bloggers also accused him of falling short of his promises of a safer, more democratic Iran.
In October 2008, Khatami organized an international conference on the position of religion in the modern world. Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, former French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, former Swiss President Joseph Deiss, former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, former Irish President Mary Robinson, former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga and former UNESCO director general Federico Mayor as well as several other scholars were among the invited speakers of the conference.
The event was followed by a celebration of the historical city of Yazd, one of the most famous cities in Persian history and Khatami's birthplace. Khatami also announced that he is about to launch a television program to promote intercultural dialogue.
Khatami contemplated running in the 2009 Iranian presidential election. In December 2008, 194 alumni of Sharif University of Tech wrote a letter to him and asked him to run against Ahmadinejad "to save the nation". On 8 February 2009, he announced his candidacy at a meeting of pro-reform politicians.
On 16 March 2009, Khatami officially announced he would drop out of the presidential race in order to endorse another reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi who Khatami claimed would stand a better chance against Iran's conservative establishment to offer true change and reform.
In December 2010, following the crushing of post-election protest, Khatami was described as working as a political "insider," drawing up a "list of preconditions" to present to the government "for the reformists' participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections", that would be seen as reasonable by the Iranian public but intollerable by the government. This was seen by some (Ata'ollah Mohajerani) as "astute" and proving "the system could not take even basic steps required for living up to its own democratic conservatives" (Azadeh Moaveni). In response to the conditions, Kayhan newspaper condemned Khatami as "a spy and traitor" and called for his execution.
A few months before presidential election which was held in June 2013, several reformist groups of Iran invited Khatami to attend in competition. The reformists also sent a letter to the Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in December 2012, regarding the participation of Khatami at the upcoming presidential election. Member of the traditional-conservative Islamic Coalition Party, Asadullah Badamchyan said that in their letter, the reformists asked the Supreme Leader to supervise the allowance of Khatami to participate in the upcoming election. Former mayor of Tehran, Gholamhossein Karbaschi announced: "Rafsanjani may support Khatami in presidential election".
Khatami himself said that he still waits for the positive changes in the country, and will reveal his decision when the time is suitable. On 11 June 2013, Khatami together with council of reformists backed moderate Hassan Rouhani, in Iran's presidential vote as Mohammad Reza Aref quit the race when Khatami advised him that it "would not be wise" for him to stay in the race for the June 2013 elections.
Khatami's two terms as president were regarded by some people, as unsuccessful or not fully successful in achieving their goals of making Iran freer and more democratic, and he has been criticized by conservatives, reformers, and opposition groups for various policies and viewpoints.
In a 47-page "A Letter for Tomorrow", Khatami said his government had stood for noble principles but had made mistakes and faced obstruction by hardline elements in the clerical establishment.Gold medal from University of Athens
The special medal of Spain's Congress of Deputies and Senate, Key to Madrid
Honorary PhD, Moscow State Institute of International Relations
Honorary doctorate in Philosophy from University of Moscow
Honorary PhD degree, Tokyo Institute of Technology
Honorary doctorate degree by the Delhi University
Honorary doctorate from National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan
Degree of honor in political sciences, Lebanese University
Pakistan's highest civilian honour
Plaque of honor and medal of distinction by the International Federation for Parent Education
Honorary doctorate from Al-Neelain University
Honorary doctorate of Law from University of St Andrews.