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Iranian Candidate Hopes To Take International Viewpoint Home


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

We begin this hour in the Middle East, first Iran. This week, the religiously based Guardian Council is expected to announce the final roster of candidates in that country's presidential election. Even though Iranians will go to the polls in less than a month, some of the candidates for the presidency are still waiting for approval to run for office.

Among the hopefuls is Iranian-American Rutgers University Professor Hooshang Amirahmadi. He joined me to talk about his ideas for the future of Iran. And I began by asking why a professor who has been living in the U.S. for more than 30 years is qualified to lead Iran?

HOOSHANG AMIRAHMADI: Well, several things. First, the world has changed. We are all nomads. I'm talking to you from London. Second, there are seven million Iranians now outside the country. I think they also have a right to their homeland. Third, I believe that the international community is as important as the national context for managing a society. I have been outside the country and have learned a lot about what is happening internationally, so then I can take that experience back to Iran.

Also, I haven't been your normal ex-patriot. I have gone back and forth to Iran almost every year a few times. You know, so again, Iran has never left me.

MARTIN: In the '90s, you started an organization here called the Iranian-American Council, which was essentially a think tank. And you hosted all kinds of big Washington names - now Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Do you think that these very close Washington ties are something that's really going to endear you to Iranian population that elected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad twice; someone who's famously anti-American?

AMIRAHMADI: Well, I believe the Iranian population is not anti-American at all. They are tired of war, of sanction, of threats. They just want a normal life. No nation on the Earth has ever become democratic in the last 200 years that did not have diplomatic ties with the U.S. It just doesn't exist. I think they have a understand it, I hope that the leaders in Tehran also understand that. I'm not sure.

MARTIN: Let me ask you, the U.S. and Iran have been locked in a stalemate for years and years over Iran's disputed nuclear programs. How would you change the dynamic?

AMIRAHMADI: The biggest problem between U.S. and Iran is lack of trust. Hooshang Amirahmadi, that is me, can bring trust back.

MARTIN: Let me ask you this though, do you believe Iran does have the right to a peaceful nuclear program?

AMIRAHMADI: Yes, it does. I think Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear program within obligations. And the most important part of that obligation is transparency. But it does not mean that if you have the right you should do it. I would preserve the right 100 percent, but I would also talk to the Iranian people, to the experts, to the international community to see where I should put my pennies.

MARTIN: Is your campaign symbolic or do you think you have a real chance at this?

AMIRAHMADI: I honestly think this is not symbolic. There's no question about it. But whether I have a real chance, I don't know. I'd like to think that the system in Tehran is rational, it's self-interested, that it understands that Hooshang Amirahmadi's candidacy is to its best interest. I am not going to change the regime. I think we can preserve the system and change the country into something great.

MARTIN: Hooshang Amirahmadi, he is an Iranian-American professor at Rutgers University. He wants to run to be the next president of Iran. He is waiting for the Iranian Guardian Council to approve his candidacy. He joined us from our studios in London.

Mr. Amirahmadi, thank you so much for your time.

AMIRAHMADI: My pleasure, Rachel. Thanks for having me and for this opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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