Iran’s former reformist president Mohammad Khatami and 120 Iranian other clerics have urged the authorities in a communiqué to release opposition leaders Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi from house arrest. Mr. Khatami already had said: “Why should people like Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Karroubi, and their wives, who have had a glorious past in the revolution and the Islamic republic, and who are loyal to the revolution and the Islamic republic, be placed under house arrest?”

Khatami has been one of the top Iranian reformist leaders for two decades now.  Based on the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s political framework, he has more or less led a reform policy. His policies however, have never instigated people’s social mobilization. Rather, his strategy has always been based on peaceful transitions within Iranian governance, such as via elections. He believes that the Iranian political structure is amendable within the framework of its constitution. And he does consider (or at least did not declare in clear-cut way) that the last Iranian presidential elections (June 2009), despite all the criticism, was not fraudulent (unlike the Green Movement).

Khatami was the Iranian president for 8 years (1997-2005), and accordingly his understanding is that it is impossible to rig magnificently the Iranian election system. During his presidency, Mehdi Karroubi and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, as rivals of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, severely challenged the integrity of the presidential elections in 2005. He rejected those claims. Even after that, Ahmadinejad declared victory with over 24 million votes in the June 2009 presidential elections, along with the subsequent violence and widespread arrests and closure of many reformist dailies, as well as the prohibition of reformist parties. Mohammad Khatami never once cited decisively the elections as fraudulent.

Nevertheless, Khatami’s sympathizers say he is timid and overly cautious, none of which Khatami pays attention to, staying true to his own strategy. Indeed, if he had declared the past elections result was fraudulent, it would have contradicted his political doctrine. If he had joined the Green Movement, for example, his reformist project would have come to an end, and the Iranian political structure may well have become incapable of change, which would deny Khatami’s long term political strategy.

Mr. Khatami believes that the political fate of reformists has been tragic after the 2009 presidential elections. Not only has the process of reform and democratization has been stopped, but veritable survival of reformists is now at stake. They have been purged, and their political life has been blocked. Khatami is therefore seeking the means to return the reformists to the Iranian political system. He repeatedly states that the Iranian reformist movement is Islamic, revolutionary, and adhering to the Islamic Republic’s political system, the constitution and the late Imam Khomeini; and he has stressed the need for reformists to accept the leadership of Ayatollah Khamenei. On the other hand, he also considers the trauma of reformists and has set conditions for national reconciliation such as the release of political prisoners, the removal the prohibition on reformist political parties, and transparent election processes.

These conditions are not only unacceptable to the regime, but Khatami has been personally attacked for setting such conditions. Instead, the Iranian leadership wants him to openly condemn Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, as well as the Green Movement.

Mr. Khatami has avoided doing this by trying to appease the conservatives in his last speech: “If the injustice has happened, let us all forgive each other and look toward the future. If the political system and the leadership have been oppressed, let’s forget it for the Iranian future. The nation will forgive the injustice of which she and her children incurred….”

The conservatives however, remain unconvinced. They think that the events after the June elections were subversive and that Khatami is one of the seditionists’ leaders. The conservatives even consider Mr. Khatami’s reconciliatory gestures as hypocritical and opportunistic. So Khatami now stands in a problematical and conflicting situation. From one side, his attempts towards closeness with the government are repressed by the conservatives, while, on the other hand, his moderate attitude in politics is resisted by radical reformists. Given the challenges appearing between conservatives, even Ahmadinejad’s team is labeled as misled and deviant (by the Ayatollah Khamenei’s radical supporters for instance), so it is unlikely political forces such as Khatami would have any opportunity for political influence. It is estimated that Khatami has joined to history and as such he just can enact the role of spiritual father for the reformists. So, his demand on release of political prisoners can not carry much weight.