Hooshang Amirahmadi Ph.D. '82, who will register as an independent candidate in the presidential election of Iran in May, said, if elected, he will make repairing American-Iranian relations a top priority.
According to a December announcement from the Iranian government, the country's next presidential election will be held on June 14. The winner will succeed current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, after serving two consecutive terms, is constitutionally banned for running for a third.
Amirahmadi's political platform is threefold: bolster relations between the United States and Iran, resolve internal conflicts and revitalize the Iranian economy, according to his campaign website.
Amirahmadi –– who is the founder and current president of the American Iranian Council, a nonpartisan organization that aims to establish a more productive relationships between the U.S. and Iran –– said previous mistakes and missed opportunities in both Iran and the U.S. have pushed American-Iranian relations in the "wrong direction." "In 2000, I brought Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, to a conference of the American-Iranian Council in Washington, D.C., when she proposed the U.S. and Iran settle their problems. She extended a near apology to the Iranian people for the 1953 coup against Iran's Prime Minster Mosadeq and lifted certain sanctions. Unfortunately, Iran missed the opportunity," he said. "Although I created the opportunities for better relations, they were missed because I was not in an implementation or decision making position."
Amirahmadi said tense relations between the U.S. and Iran are the result of a lack of trust between the two countries. Calling himself a "peacemaker," Amirahmadi said he hopes his experience and accomplishments in both the U.S. and Iran will ease communications.
"There is a tremendous lack of trust between the U.S. and Iran, and this trust is key to improving U.S.-Iran relations. I can reestablish trust not only because I have lived in this country and I know the language and culture but because I know the culture and the language there too. ... I also understand their concerns and interests. ... Iran needs a peacemaker, and that's me."
The economic downturn in Iran, he said, was also the result of poor governmental decisions by previous administrations and corrupt management.
"The Iranian economy is in shambles due to sanctions and mismanagement. Many Iranian people are suffering tremendously from the high unemployment rate, high inflation rate, the collapse of the national currency and corruption," he said. "If I become president, I will solve the sanction problem by mending relations with the U.S. and the mismanagement problems by putting in the right people in place."
Amirahmadi is currently a professor in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. Although he lives in the United States and not in Iran, as a native Iranian, he said he travels there frequently. He added that his academic record will give him a unique outlook as president of Iran.
According to his candidate biography, Amirahmadi was born in Talesh, Iran. After graduating from college, he served in the Iranian military's Agricultural Corps before coming to the U.S. to study in 1975. He earned an M.S. degree in industrial management at the University of Dallas in 1977 and came to Cornell to pursue a doctorate the next year.
Amirahmadi remembers Cornell as being a "politically and academically incredible place."
"I learned so much at Cornell," he said. "It was really fun, and I have wonderful memories of the large Iranian student population there."
While at Cornell, Amirahmadi was a key part of the Iranian student community, serving as the president of the Iranian Students Association. According to Amirahmadi, during the Iranian Revolution and the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979, he was responsible for helping Iranian students re-register with immigration services.
"My time at Cornell coincided with the Iranian 1979 Revolution. These were very tough times, but the community was extremely hospitable during those days. We were like a family group, and the administrators, faculty, and students were all extremely supportive."
As a student, Amirahmadi said he was "very involved with the student movement" and taught two graduate courses in political economy. He also wrote and published extensively during his academic career; his Cornell dissertation, entitled "The Political Economy of Iran under the Qajars: Society, Politics and Foreign Relations 1796-1926," was revised and published last year.
According to Amirahmadi's daughter, Roxana Amirahmadi '13, a current undergraduate at Cornell and editor emerita of the Cornell Progressive, the diversity of Cornell has had a positive effect on both her and her father.
"Cornell is a bridge to the rest of the world. The undergraduate system here gives students a global perspective, and the diversity on campus and direct interaction with different people lets people have conversations about tolerance and acceptance," she said.
Still, with the Iranian election and change in power just months away, she urged American students around the country to be objective when looking at Iran and to not be swayed by past events.
"American students, not just at Cornell, should keep an open mind about Iran. It is a complicated country, and it is not just one image. It is diverse, and they need to know what the world is really like," she said.