Iranian presidential candidate gives speech on campus

Marissa Mito/Staff

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Iranian presidential candidate Hooshang Amirahmadi addressed UC Berkeley on the improvement of U.S.-Iranian relations in a speech he gave on campus Friday night.

Amirahmadi, a professor in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, is running in the 2013 Iranian presidential election and spoke about improving Iran’s relationship with the West, ending factional infighting within Iran’s government and creating a unified economic policy for the country.

“I am not a revolutionary — I am a peacemaker,” Amirahmadi said, referencing Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who rejected direct negotiations with the United States. “I am not against the Islamic Republic as a system. I want to maintain the system but change the country.”

Hosted by the UC Berkeley Religion, Politics and Globalization Program, Friday’s speech was the latest in a series of campus visits to promote Amirahmadi’s presidential campaign. Amirahmadi stressed how important it is that college students in both the United States and Iran are informed about the two countries’ relationship.

“Iranians want a normal life like anybody else,” he said. “Americans have been misinformed by the media and policymakers, who just sell news. There is absolutely not a single issue in the U.S.-Iran relationship that cannot be negotiated.”

Additionally, Amirahmadi said that he supports Iran’s right to nuclear development as long as the country increases transparency and assures the world that it is not seeking nuclear weapons.

“I do not think the Islamic Republic should build a nuclear bomb, but it should have the right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes,” he said.

Amirahmadi also serves as president of the American-Iranian Council, a policy think tank he founded to improve U.S.-Iranian relations. He categorized previous reform movements in Iran, such as the 2009-10 Iranian election protests, as failures of personality among their leaders that resulted in an inability to unite those who supported reform.

However, Amirahmadi notes that his personal and professional roots in both the United States and in Iran make him the ideal candidate to implement change in U.S.-Iranian diplomatic relations.

Amirahmadi came to the United States from Iran 38 years ago to be educated but has remained because of the outbreak of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Since then, he has earned a doctorate in planning and international development from Cornell University, served as director of Rutgers University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and published a book on post-revolutionary Iran.

“Since I have lived in the United States, I have been back and forth to Iran almost every year” he said. “I served the country during the Iran-Iraq War assessing damages and helping reconstruction in 1986, 1987 and 1988. My family and friends live there. I’m only 13 hours away.”

Amirahmadi declared his presidential candidacy in the 2005 presidential elections but was barred from running for holding American citizenship by Iran’s Guardian Council, a body responsible for upholding the Iranian Constitution. He said that his previous candidacy was a statement against the boycotting of the elections and that this year, he is confident about having a serious chance to run for president.

“People who think we have no chance are wrong,” Amirahmadi said. “Iran is a land of surprises. Never predict Iran.”

Jeremy Gordon covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected].