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People of Iran Deserve Change

The vote for Khatami points to demand for domestic improvements

May 28, 1997

Iran. The word alone conjures images of radical international politics and intemperate foreign adventures. But the message sent last weekend by Iranian voters was a demand for change at home. In giving Mohammad Khatami, a moderate cleric, a landslide victory in presidential elections they made it clear that an improved economy and relaxed social customs were the aim of this generation of Iranians.

The corrupt regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi is now largely a memory. The violent revolution that deposed him and the brutal decade of war with Iraq that followed still shape Iran, and not for the better. The war ruined the Iranian economy and inflation destroyed family savings and incomes. Last weekend, the people were given the chance to choose change and did not hesitate. Khatami won in a landslide over Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, the firebrand speaker of the Iranian Parliament.

Still under the ultimate power of Islamic religious councils and ranking ayatollahs, Iran should not be expected to suddenly revise its outward face. "Any change in relations with the United States is dependent on change in American policy toward Iran," Khatami said Tuesday. "Unfortunately we don't see any sign of such a change. . . ."

Nor should he, for the new president will have to demonstrate his control of Iranian power centers and foreign policy before he can expect Washington to consider improved relations. Iran's participation in state terrorism under outgoing President Hashemi Rafsanjani and its efforts to subvert the Middle East peace process have done nothing to better the atmosphere.

Certainly, Rafsanjani's relatively moderate domestic policies, coupled with what promises to be Khatami's similar inclinations, could give Iran a more clear-eyed look at the benefits of life without a bunker attitude.

"What is most important is actions, not words," Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said of Tehran's new leadership.

We should add that the 66 million people of Iran are now looking to Khatami for precisely the same thing--actions, not words--that Albright asks for. The advance of Iran's ideas on the rule of Islam is not what the voters had foremost in mind. They sought better salaries and housing and fewer restraints on social activities. Surely after nearly two decades of revolution and war, they deserve a break.

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