LONDON (AP) – Democracy is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, Iran’s former president said, criticizing U.S. President George W. Bush’s attempt to impose Western-style government on the Middle East.
After facing more than 100 protesters as he arrived in central London to speak at Chatham House, a foreign-affairs think tank, on Wednesday, Mohammad Khatami said that while he believes in democracy for the troubled region, it should be tailored to fit countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.
“One of the greatest jokes Mr. Bush makes is when he says he wants to export democracy. Democracy is not something to get exported or be given,” Khatami said. “The seed was cultivated in the West, but the seed shall be cultivated in the East, in Islam, in a different way because the conditions are different.”
“Historically, human affairs depend on social conditions and experiences. The experience of one country, one nation, cannot be extended to another geographic area with a different culture and conditions,” Khatami said, speaking through an interpreter.
While Iran is a staunch supporter of the new governments in Afghanistan and Iraq, Khatami said he believed the actions by Washington in that region were an expensive mistake, and that American presence there had fueled terrorism.
“We are strongly of the opinion that this has been a great mistake the Americans committed. And not only are they not able to stop terrorism, or eradicate it in these two countries, but they’ve turned it into a new form of terrorism in the Middle East, in the Islamic countries,” Khatami said, answering questions from an invited audience. “And they were defeated there. You can see that,” he said. “What they are taking out of Iraq is just the dead bodies of their beloved ones.”
Khatami, a reformist and relative moderate, was president of Iran for eight years until 2005 and is the first senior Iranian to visit Britain since the fall of the Shah in the 1979 Islamic revolution. His trip comes as Britain and the United States press for sanctions against Iran for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment program, which they and their allies suspect is aimed at building nuclear bombs. Critics of the visit say Khatami was complicit with the imprisonment and torture of thousands of dissidents when he was in office.
Last year he was succeeded by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has taken a far more belligerent stance internationally. Outside Chatham House, protesters chanted slogans criticizing Khatami and calling for a free Iran. “They sent him overseas to show a better face, a smiling face, of Iran,” said Behdad Kazemi, from the International Alliance for the Support of Workers in Iran. “He was in power for eight years and during his time a number of Iranian intellectuals were murdered.”
Inside, Khatami brushed aside queries on Iran’s human rights record, saying that torture was not acceptable, and that he had presided over a country that was moving closer to democracy. He recalled being confronted by a young protester while attending an event at a university as one of the “best times” he’d had while in office.
“I realized that when a young woman or man is talking hot to the president and he is not worried he will be arrested, this is democracy and I love it,” he said.