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Iran's Pro-Reform Leader Examined

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition candidate who ran against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, has not been heard from much since the country's presidential election June 12.

But many want to know his political background, what he stands for — and what he might do next.

Joe Klein of Time magazine, who interviewed Mousavi in Tehran the day before the election, says Mousavi is a "very soft-spoken man."

"He was very quiet, very polite, not very charismatic," Klein tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "But he did say several things that distinguished him even from some of the other reformers in terms of his willingness to negotiate with the United States if he were elected."

Mousavi has held the position of foreign minister, as well as prime minister of Iran — a position that no longer exists — and he's an architect by training and a painter.

Klein says he thinks Mousavi differs from Ahmadinejad in both his views of the Iranian economy and his style of campaigning.

"Mousavi wanted to take the oil revenues and use it to invest in a more sophisticated economy of the future," Klein says. "Ahmadinejad has been taking the oil revenues and redistributing them directly."

Regarding style, Klein says Ahmadinejad has directly attacked people associated with Mousavi, including his wife.

Similarly, Mohsen Sazegara, a former deputy prime minister of Iran and now a dissident living in exile in Washington, D.C., calls Mousavi "noble."

"I remember Mousavi from 1977, when I was a student [in] Chicago, Illinois, and an active member of the Muslim Student Association," Sazegara says. "In a seminar we had in Texas, he was invited with his wife from Iran. They had a very good speech about [the] Quran, both of them, in that seminar. Later, when I was at the head of the biggest industrial organization of Iran during [the] '80s, while Mousavi was prime minister, I worked with him. He's a noble man. ... Maybe I don't agree with some of his ideals right now. Somehow he believes in an ideological version of Islam."

Sazegara disputes a CQpolitics.com article that cites former U.S. intelligence sources who say Mousavi was involved in attacks against the U.S. in the 1980s, such as the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and of a U.S. naval base in Italy.

"No, he was not involved in these affairs," Sazegara says, adding that Mousavi was not a member of the Revolutionary Guard or the Iran army.

Klein adds that Mousavi has been part of the "generation that made the revolution. He's been part of the generational transformation that's taken place over time. They've become far more moderate. ... The real generation gap in Iran is between people like Mousavi, the revolutionary generation, and people like Ahmadinejad, the generation that fought the Iran-Iraq war, who are far more military in their orientation."

Sazegara says he agrees.

"My generation is [a] generation of revolution," Sazegara says. "We were all revolutionary in those days. We were anti-U.S., anti-capitalism. We believed in socialistic ideas. Mousavi, like many other people in my generation, we have changed our ideals somehow, more or less."

Klein says Mousavi's behavior since the election has surprised him.

"He seemed to be someone who was not the sort of guy who would get out in the streets with a speaker horn and lead a public movement," he says.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.