In an interview on CNN last night, Khatami called for dialogue between Iranians and Americans, and said Iran sought peaceful relations with the U.S. Dowell says Washington may be responding cautiously because Iranian leaders have made similar overtures in the past but lacked the clout to follow through. The extent of Khatami’s real power is surprisingly difficult to gauge. While his campaign for the presidency last June was opposed by the country's hardline spiritual leader, Ayatullah Ali Khameini, Khatami won 70 percent of the ballot in a surprise protest vote. Says Dowell: "Recent events show that there's a real power struggle in Iran and it's outcome is far from clear."
As the White House weighs its response to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's charm offensive, "the crucial question is whether Khatami has the power to deliver what he's offering," says TIME correspondent William Dowell.