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Special Report

The Questionable Past of Iran's President-Elect

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," June 30, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. ET

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM DAUGHERTY, FORMER HOSTAGE: I was very firm in my conclusion, and I said, you know, one of our captors is now the president of Iran.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: Iran’s denials that the new president was a terrorist involved in the hostage-taking at the U.S. embassy in Tehran all those years ago seemed likely to convince no one in the U.S. So what else is known about this guy, and given the way Iran runs, does he really have any power?

For answers, we turn to Professor Rob Sobhani of Georgetown University, one of whose specialties is Iran and its role in terrorism.

Nice to have you back.

ROB SOBHANI, COMMITTEE ON PRESENT DANGER: Thank you, Brit. Appreciate it.

HUME: So tell me a little bit about this chap and what we know about him, other than the fact that all of these witnesses say yes, there he was, one of the captors?

SOBHANI: Well, I think there is no doubt that, given his past history, his commitment to the ideology of the Islamic Revolution, that he would have participated in an event of the hostage-taking. And I think that the former hostages are probably right in identifying him as one of their captors.

HUME: What else do we know about him?

SOBHANI: He was part of the Revolutionary Guards that was instructed to actually carry out political assassinations overseas. So his expertise, really is...

HUME: This is what he did after the hostage...

(CROSSTALK)

SOBHANI: After the hostages.

HUME: He was a college student, I suppose, back in those days?

SOBHANI: Absolutely. Absolutely, part of the Islamic Association.

HUME: Right.

SOBHANI: And then he becomes a student, capped the American embassy episode, and then he joins the Revolutionary Guards, as I said, and has a brilliant career, quote, unquote, and actually...

HUME: Doing what?

SOBHANI: Doing basically the dirty work of the Revolutionary Guards. They have a special unit that goes after dissidents, that goes after political exiles. And he was involved in many of those acts until very recently when he was then appointed the governor of a small province. And then after that, he was elected to the mayor of Tehran with an agenda of Islamic purification.

HUME: And how did he carry out his duties as mayor of Tehran?

SOBHANI: Well, one of the most famous things that he did was to segregate men and women on elevators. I mean, that’s his claim to fame, is to have basically Islamicized the city of Tehran, which is why the most of population of Tehran did not vote for this man.

HUME: The Bush administration denounced this election before it even happened, denounced the process by which it was held, denounced the fact that many candidates were not even allowed to run.

And yet, in the end, around the world, this vote got a lot of attention and news coverage, as if something had happened. Is there any reason to believe that, in the end, when the voting was held, that this was at least an honest expression of the preference between the incumbent, Rafsanjani, and this man?

SOBHANI: On a scale of 1-10, it was probably an honest expression by the rate of about 2, only because there is general frustration with the economy of Iran. There is unemployment. There are vast amounts of corruption, and Ahmadinejad played to that populist tune. However, it was obviously voter fraud. The Revolutionary Guards, the militia really did influence the vote.

HUME: How did they do that?

SOBHANI: They basically stuffed the ballots, a number of fake passports were introduced into the country, and they bused people from the provinces into Tehran. Why? To show the world that this was a legitimate election, quote, unquote.

HUME: So it created this appearance of a large turnout and a real process?

SOBHANI: Absolutely, because the Islamic Republic of Iran needs to have legitimacy in the international arena. And if it does not, it’s in trouble.

HUME: Based on what we’ve seen so far, how is this man likely to be received in the rest of the world, in European capitals and such places?

SOBHANI: I think the Europeans are nervous, frankly, with Ahmadinejad because he’s taken a very hard-line, vis a vis the nuclear negotiations. And I think the Europeans are now beginning to rethink — and I’m sure that pretty soon they’ll join the United States in coming up with harsher language, as it concerns Iran’s nuclear programs, because there is no compromise on the part of Ahmadinejad.

HUME: So there’s no hope, in your view, for the Europeans to be able to negotiate with this guy?

SOBHANI: I don’t think so. And even if there are some tactical maneuvers, it’ll only be short-term. The true nature of Ahmadinejad has been what we’ve seen in the past, the hostage-taker.

HUME: There’s no reason to believe that over time he may have moderated his views or anything like that?

SOBHANI: Not by what he’s been saying. I mean, he has been very, very adamant in his anti-Americanism, his anti-Israel rhetoric. And I’m sure the Europeans are going to have a tough time persuading him to stop the Iran’s nuclear program.

HUME: Now, the Ayatollah Khomeini is the religious leader of the country. It is widely thought that he is the final say on everything. So, is that the case, and, if it is the case, does this guy really matter?

SOBHANI: Well, the Ayatollah Khomeini is the Il Duce, the Furor all wrapped in one. He’s the head honcho in Iran. He dictates.

And in fact, the election of Ahmadinejad was based on the dictate of the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini. Without Khomeini, Ahmadinejad would still be running the city of Tehran and not be president of Iran.

HUME: Had he been — so he had soured on Rafsanjani, one...

SOBHANI: Absolutely. Which shows you really the deep fault lines within Iranian political process. Rafsanjani being on one part of the spectrum, Khomeini on another part of the spectrum. And really, I think, the beginning of the end, maybe, of the Islamic Republic.

HUME: So does this have any implications for American policy here? Or is there anything that can be done? Can we even purport to do business with somebody who is involved in this hostage taking?

SOBHANI: I think Condoleezza Rice said it best. I mean, we need to deal with the people of Iran. The legitimacy of the Islamic Republic has come into question, and I think the best thing that we can do is support the people of Iran and their aspirations for freedom.

HUME: Are we doing anything meaningful in that sense, in your view?

SOBHANI: I think the meaningful thing, Brit, that we could do is start dealing directly with dissidents, both inside the country and outside. Today, the State Department announced that they’re going to support the rights of a jailed news journalist, for example, Mr. Ganji. I think these are very positive moves, and we should continue this, but more vocally.

HUME: And word of this sort of thing reaches the Iranian people?

SOBHANI: Absolutely. Just like it brought down the Soviet Union, there’s no reason why it can’t affect the Islamic Republican of Iran.

HUME: Rob Sobhani, it’s always a pleasure to have you coming in.

SOBHANI: Thanks very much.

HUME: Good to see you. Hope you’ll come back soon.

SOBHANI: Absolutely. Thanks a lot.

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