Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who is urging a dialogue with the American people, is familiar with the West.
He once lived in Germany, and speaks English and German in addition to Arabic and his native Farsi.
Khatami said in a television interview broadcast Wednesday that he was recommending “the exchange of professors, writers, scholars, artists, journalists, and tourists” as a first step toward easing hostile relations between the two countries.
The importance of cultural ties is something Khatami knows well.
He served as culture minister after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and tangled with hard-line clerics who pushed him from office in 1992 for his liberal views.
He was propelled to power last year in a landslide victory largely by capturing the votes of Iranian youth disenchanted with their country’s faltering economy and its isolation from the West.
Khatami was born in Ardakan, in central Yazd province, to a conservative family.
His late father, Ruhollah, was an ayatollah and a prominent supporter of Iran’s revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Khatami, 55, is a hojatoleslam or middle-ranking cleric.
He once headed an Iranian cultural center in Germany.