- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

TEHRAN Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, acknowledging that his attempts to work with hard-liners have failed, announced yesterday that he will present a bill to parliament that would give him the power to push through reforms.

Mr. Khatami's initiative appeared to be a gamble to enhance his standing with a public impatient with the slow pace of liberalization. But in trying to seize more power, he risks a public rebuke from Iran's hard-liners, who wield most of the power in this Islamic country through unelected institutions like the judiciary.

"My repeated warnings on violation of the constitution have been ignored," Mr. Khatami told a packed news conference yesterday.

"The president should be empowered to fulfill his constitutional responsibilities," he said. "Therefore, I will present a bill to parliament soon that would allow me to fulfill my responsibilities with greater powers absolutely within the constitution."

Any reforms Mr. Khatami proposes are likely to be easily passed by the reformist-dominated parliament. But Iranian legislation does not become law unless it is approved by the hard-line, unelected Guardian Council, which has in the past rejected reforms proposed by parliament.

Mr. Khatami said he did not expect the Guardian Council to oppose his presidential powers bill.

"The Guardian Council can either say a bill is against Islam or the constitution. The bill I'll present is part of the constitution and it is definitely not against Islam," he said.

He criticized the hard-line judiciary for closing newspapers and said it jailed reformists without respecting their legal rights.

The judiciary has closed down more than 80 reformist newspapers and jailed several dozen political activists over the past two years, mostly in closed trials without a jury.

Reformists say hard-liners account for 20 percent of Iran's population but wield 80 percent of the power. The hard-liners, supported by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, went on the offensive against Mr. Khatami and his allies after losing control of the powerful Majlis, or parliament, in February 2000 legislative elections.

On relations with the United States, Mr. Khatami said his government would pursue its policy of detente but that Iran would defend its independence and interests if attacked by America.

"I hope the U.S. makes no mischief against Iran. I advise America to give up its policy of threats. Intervention in Iran will create instability throughout the region. We try not to give it a pretext but we will defend our independence, prestige and interests," he said.

He said the Clinton administration "was more realistic" than the Bush administration.

"We haven't said there will never be a change in [our] policy toward America. America's policies have created concern in the world. We hope wisdom and consciousness is once again employed and America reconsiders its policies," he said.

Iran and the United States severed diplomatic ties after militant students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Mr. Khatami encouraged people-to-people contacts but stopped short of calling for resumption of ties. Relations deteriorated after President Bush accused Iran in January of being part of a terrorist "axis of evil."

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