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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Showdown: Iran

Aired September 22, 2006 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again. In the hour ahead, a special edition of 360, Showdown: Iran, including my exclusive interview with its president, who denies the Holocaust, defies the world, and may one day be the next nuclear threat for the U.S.
ANNOUNCER: A 360 exclusive -- we go one on one with Iran's president.

COOPER: Do you really believe that the Holocaust never happened?

ANNOUNCER: His answer may surprise you, but is he telling the truth? Tonight, a 360 fact check on his comments to the U.N. and the world.

Plus, a rare look inside Iran. Letters to the president, words of praise and anger. What his people think of his leadership.

Across the country and around the world, this is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360: Showdown: Iran. Reporting from the CNN studios in New York, here is Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: If Osama bin Laden is the most wanted man in the world, many consider Iran's president to be the most dangerous. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made a name for himself with his incendiary remarks on Jews, the Holocaust, and for refusing to stop Iran's nuclear program. President Bush believes Iran wants to build nuclear warheads, which could force the U.S. into a military confrontation. But, in my exclusive interview with Ahmadinejad, he said President Bush has it all wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator): It seems to me that Mr. Bush fails to understand the reality of the world today, the conditions that we set the world today. This is not the kind of language you speak talking with a great nation. It's an insult to a great nation.

I don't know what he is actually thinking when he makes remarks like that. I invite him to speak for half an hour with our nation every day, and everyone will listen to what he has to say, but nothing will be resolved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, over the next hour, we're going to take a close look at the showdown with Iran. We'll have much more of my interview with Ahmadinejad and we'll hear from President Bush.

But first, let's set the stage with CNN's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The Iranian president came to the United States clearly looking for a showdown, and he got it.

He and President Bush never met, but debated their major disagreements all week anyway in speeches and the media.

The hottest question, is Iran developing nuclear weapons? From Mr. Bush, sharp accusations. From Mr. Ahmadinejad, a flat no.

From Mr. Bush, a sharp accusation. From Mr. Ahmadinejad, a flat no.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): All of our nuclear activities are transparent, peaceful, and under the watchful eyes of the IAEA inspectors.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions, despite what the regime tells you. We have no objection to Iran's pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power program.

FOREMAN: Threats with nuclear power by some powers have taken the place of respect for other nations.

BUSH: We're working toward a diplomatic solution to this crisis.

FOREMAN: What about Iraq? Again, a clash.

BUSH: Some have argued that the democratic changes we're seeing in the Middle East are destabilizing the region. This argument rests on a false assumption that the Middle East was stable to begin with.

FOREMAN: Not a day goes by without hundreds of people getting killed in cold blood, Ahmadinejad says. The occupiers are incapable of establishing that they have the necessary political will to eliminate the sources of instability.

On Israel, Mr. Ahmadinejad accused the Jewish state, with America's help, of ceaselessly persecuting Palestinians.

Can there be a more vivid case of discrimination, he says.

Mr. Bush says...

BUSH: I'm committed to two democratic states, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

FOREMAN: Does the U.S. wield its power for good? The Iranian president repeatedly said America uses economic and military strength to prey upon weaker nations, making the U.N. a puppet. When the power behind the hostilities is itself a permanent member of the security council, he says, how can it fulfill its mission?

FOREMAN: President Bush said the U.N. still offers hope for all nations to cooperate.

BUSH: Or will we yield the future to the terrorists and extremists? America's made its choice.

FOREMAN (on camera): There is no way of telling who won this debate that never was. But all over Washington, people do know this -- a little more than a year ago, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a little known figure.

(voice-over): And now, he's spent the better part of a whole week debating the leader of the most powerful nation on the planet, or at least coming close.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims he wants to open a dialogue with America. But can the White House trust what he says?

His remarks have angered many, especially Jews. The Iranian president continues to question the Holocaust and if 6 million Jews were exterminated during World War II.

And it is with that subject we began our conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: At the U.N. you spoke with great passion of brotherhood, of peace and respect for all nations. Yet in Tehran last year, you spoke about wiping Israel off the face of the map, wiping Israel off the face of the map. That doesn't sound to many people in the United States -- not just in the government, to many people here who heard that through the media -- that doesn't sound like great respect for other nations. Do you want to wipe Israel off the face of the map?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I'm surprised why American politicians are so sensitive and biased with regards to Israel. Is there a relationship to speak with such prejudice, everyone is prevented about questioning the regime. Whenever a question is raised, some American politicians react very strongly to it, whereas we know there's a lot being said about many countries around the world.

Lebanon was bombarded. In Ghana people were killed with laser bombs. And, but it doesn't seem to have created concern among American politicians as much. But when somebody questions or criticizes the Zionist regime, there's so much reaction. Could you tell me why this is the case? Given the massacres committed by Israel, killing people in their own homes, should they not be subject to criticism? Should nobody complain and raise objections about the violations of rights and the murders that they commit? Are they free to do such acts?

COOPER: To some in America, though, that's going to sound like you're not answering the question. The question really is, is -- do you believe Israel has a right to exist?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I say that it is an occupying regime. We say you must allow the Palestinian nation to decide for itself what its fate should be. There are five million displaced Palestinians, four million who live under the threat of bombardments or actual bombardments and attacks. So, let Palestinian people decide for themselves.

We support the vote of the people. Don't the people in Palestine have the right to live? Are they not human beings? They live in their own homeland. In their own homeland they are under attack.

COOPER: The same statement could be said of Jewish people in Israel, that they are living in what they say is their homeland. Don't they have a right to exist?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Yes, in Palestine, there were a group of Jews that live. But where did they come? Afterwards the larger groups that came to Palestine we know what the trend was. A group of people came from other places to that land. Where does the father of Mr. Olmert come from, for example? Some of the ministers in Israel are in fact of Iranian origin, with no background, historical background in Palestinian. But they are there ruling.

COOPER: So you're saying really that they don't belong there, they should go somewhere else?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I am saying, let the Palestinian people decide. And among Palestinians, there are Jews, Muslims and Christians. A question is what about the rights of the Palestinian people? They lived there. They were displaced and forced to leave their own homeland under the threat of a gun and regretfully with the support of the American government.

What is happening to the Palestinians? The young people are being killed on the streets, homes are being destroyed over their heads. We want peace to be established there. We care for the Jews who live under pressure there as well. Because they, too, are living outside their own homes from where they belong, their homeland actually, that is not their homeland.

COOPER: You have repeatedly implied that the Holocaust never happened. And it certainly seems to be -- and implied that more research needs to be done on whether or not it did happen. I mean the argument can be made that the genocide was perhaps the most well- documented genocide of the 20th century. Do you really believe that the Holocaust never happened? AHMADINEJAD (through translator): If this event happened, where did it happen? The where is the main question. And it was not in Palestine. Why is the Holocaust used as a pretext to occupy Palestinian lands?

COOPER: You do realize, though, why it would be deeply offensive to so many people that you even say if it ever happened?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Well, you don't speak here for all Americans. In the past two or three days I've met with many members of the media and the press here, some who are even related to the U.S. government. But the questions are the same across the board.

COOPER: Why can't you believe that there was a Holocaust and support Palestinians?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): No, that's not a reason at all. The subject of the Holocaust is a different subject. I raised two or three questions and were very clear about it. I said that in World War II, 60 million people lost their lives. They were killed. Two million of them were non-civilians, so to say military. The rest were civilian population. Why is it that we concentrate so much on the lives of a group among the 60 million?

COOPER: Well, because the...

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): The second question, assuming that this happened, why don't they allow more research and studies to be done about it if it is a truth that happened and we need more clarity about it?

COOPER: President Bush at the U.N. spoke -- tried to speak directly to the Iranian people yesterday and said...

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Did you get the answer you wanted about the Holocaust?

COOPER: I didn't, but I know my time is limited. It's a fascinating subject. I mean, I think what people in America...

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Are you asking the questions that are on your mind or questions that are given to you by others?

COOPER: Actually, in America we have a free press unlike in parts of Iran. But I'm asking the questions that I'm interested in. But I know your time is short. Frankly, I'd love to talk to you for two hours, but...

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Well, given that all the questions are very similar, it speaks for itself.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, in case it doesn't speak for itself, as you just heard, here's the raw data. According to Reporters without Borders, there's only one journalist now incarcerated in the United States, and it's for contempt of court, not for what he published. Iran has two jailed reporters, including one who's been held in solitary confinement during the year. Others are waiting trial. And a dissident blogger was recently freed after nearly a year and a half in prison. Twenty- four journalists are being held in Cuba. And China tops the list with 32 journalists now behind bars.

We'll have more from Iran's president coming up. As for President Bush, he spoke with CNN's Wolf Blitzer about Ahmadinejad, about Iran and if the U.S. is inching closer to a military showdown.

Here's what the president said about negotiating with his adversary.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: Our position is very clear to the Iranians, that if they want to sit down with American officials, that they first must verifiably suspend their enrichment program. They know our position, the world knows our position, and I clarified it at the United Nations.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: If it would help, if it would help to sit down, talk to them, and try to convince them -- you know there have been other moments where great leaders have made that major decision to have a breakthrough. Nixon going to China, Sadat going to Jerusalem. What would be wrong to just sit down with him and tell them, you know what? Here are the options before you?

BUSH: Yes, well, he knows the options before him. I made that very clear.

Secondly, Wolf, in order for there to be effective diplomacy, you can't keep changing your word. At an important moment in these negotiations with the EU-3 and Iran, we made it clear, we would come to the table, but we would come to the table only if they verifiably suspended their enrichment program. And the reason that's important that they verifiably suspend is because we don't want them to have technologies necessary to be able to build a nuclear weapon.

COOPER: Well, we'll have more from my exclusive interview with Iran's president in a moment. I asked him a lot of things including this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: President Bush said, at the U.N., that the rules of Iran, quote, "have chosen to deny you liberty," speaking to the Iranian people, "and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism." What did you think of that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: How he answered that, when this special edition of 360, "Showdown: Iran" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has enjoyed the last word at the United Nations. His speech ending a long day in the opening of the general assembly. Iran's president lobbed a laundry list of accusations at United States, hours after President Bush addressed the general assembly.

In a moment, my exclusive interview with President Ahmadinejad continues.

But first, some background on the man who now more than ever has the attention of the world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): He defies the West, doubts the Holocaust, is determined to build a nuclear program, and wants Israel wiped off the face of the earth.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knows how to get attention. And it's not just what he says that raises eyebrows. Standing just 5'4", the son of a black smith, never wears a tie, often appears scruffy and is prone to wearing what has become his trademark sports jacket.

He may be amusing to some, but of course very dangerous to others, like Israel, President Bush and the president's top advisers in the White House.

BUSH: Iran is obviously part of the problem. They sponsor Hezbollah. They encourage a radical brand of Islam. Imagine how difficult this issue would be if Iran had a nuclear weapon.

COOPER: President Bush fears the 49-year-old civil engineer, turned savvy politician, is hoping to turn the Islamic Republic of Iran into a super power, equipped with weapons of mass destruction. Ahmadinejad insists, that's not true.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): We are no threat for anyone. The issue of making nuclear weapons has no place in Iran's policy. Making nuclear weapons is not on Iran's agenda.

COOPER: If the West fears him, millions elsewhere embrace his ideology. Ahmadinejad's followers are many and so are his infamous friends like American foes, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro. It seems the more he angers the U.S., the more popular he gets.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: He's becoming some sort of an international figure. The anti-American elements around the world which unfortunately because of our policies are becoming more numerous, are beginning to recognize him as one of the top leaders.

COOPER: And there is no doubt that he is a top leader for anti- Americans, but it's unclear if his standoff with the U.S. will end peacefully or not.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: In my exclusive interview with president, we talked about his address at the United Nations. In that speech he took aim at the United States and the U.N. Security Council.

Hours earlier at the U.N., President Bush had appealed directly to the Iranian people. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty, to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I asked President Ahmadinejad about those statements.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): It seems to me that Mr. Bush fails to understand the reality of the world today. The conditions that we set the world today. This is not the kind of language you speak talking with a great nation. It's an insult to a great nation.

I don't know what he is actually thinking when he makes remarks like that. I invite him to speak for half an hour with our nation every day, and everyone will listen to what he has to say, but nothing will be resolved.

COOPER: He gave his message to the Iranian people. What is your message to the American people? What do you want them to know about Iran, about you?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Our message is the message of peace and brotherhood with all nations, with all people. And we like all nations and people, we are against oppression and injustice. And we love the American people as we love our own. We respect everyone.

And to clarify issues, I would call Mr. Bush to debate. I propose that we sit and have a debate, to talk about our positions, to discuss issues and allow everyone around the world to hear the debate. This was a great suggestion, I think, because I believe that, after all, it's the public opinion, the world public opinion, to have information and decide.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: My exclusive interview with the president continues in a moment.

He told the U.N. that Iran is pursuing a peaceful nuclear program, a program that he says is transparent. He claims the IAEA says that. But those statements don't quite match up to reports by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog. I confronted him about that.

And what if the worse scenario end out playing out? The military option. We'll look at strike options and the risks of each when "Showdown: Iran" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): It's not the nuclear bomb that the American government is afraid of. For there are countries in our region who are armed with a nuclear bomb and they are supported by a chance by the United States government. Now, how is this? In Iran we say you -- there are two skies over one ceiling or two kinds of wind running over the same ceiling. It doesn't seem plausible. They're not concerned about the bomb. But it seems to us they like to prevent the development of our country as they have in the past.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking at the U.N.

During my interview with him, he told me Iran is not building nuclear weapons, that it couldn't possibly do so with the U.N. watchdog eyeing every move. That's what he said. But how does that match up to the facts?

Here's CNN's Brian Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An ambitious leader, positioning himself as a major Middle East player.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government says those ambitions don't include a nuclear weapon. His American counterparts disagree. We spoke to a Joe Cirincione, a weapons expert who has been to Iran recently about three controversial facilities.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Natanz is where they have the centrifuges that will turn uranium into enriched uranium. In Esfahan is where they are taking the uranium from the ground and turning it into the gas that they can turn into the centrifuges. And finally, over in Iraq, is where the Iranians are moving on a heavy water reactor that can be used to make plutonium, the other material for nuclear bombs.

TODD: Cirincione says the Iraq facility is designed to make plutonium quickly. No reason for that capability, he says, except to make nuclear material for bombs.

Then there are the mysterious tunnels at the sprawling Esfahan plant.

CIRINCIONE: In these tunnels near Esfahan, the Iranians say they are storing the uranium gas there, again to protect it from possible attack. But they might also have a duplicate facility in those mountains. That's why we need intrusive inspections to ferret that out.

TODD: Inspections that would be difficult to carry out under current rules that Iran has insisted on. But experts say, all three facilities could also be used for legitimate peaceful nuclear production, which is Iran's stated intent. As for evidence...

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER WEAPONS INSPECTOR: There's no smoking gun, and there's no evidence that Iran has made the decision to actually build nuclear weapons.

TODD: A finding backed up by the International Atomic Energy Agency. But the IAEA also says, Iran hasn't stopped enriching low- grade uranium and hasn't allowed inspectors to interview key scientists.

(on camera): An Iranian official at United Nations tells me his government has complied with the IAEA for several years now and will continue to. We may know more soon. Inspectors are on the ground right now.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, that's not what the IAEA says. Such evidence of non-cooperation is precisely what we talked about when President Ahmadinejad and I sat down together.

It almost goes without saying, he sees things very differently. I didn't expect him to throw up his hands and say, OK, you got me. So, in the sense we made no news. On the other hand, you may find the conversation fascinating simply for what it reveals about how the man reacts when confronted. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: You said at the U.N. yesterday that your nuclear program is, quote, "transparent, peaceful, and under the watchful eyes of IAEA inspectors." That's not what IAEA inspectors have said in a recent report. They have said that they frankly cannot verify the peaceful nature of your program, and that it is not transparent. Why not just open up the program and fulfill all of the requirements that the IAEA would like?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): They said that they did not find any evidence or signs, although they must continue inspections, and they're welcome to continue inspections at all times.

The IAEA has declared that on numerous occasions, in fact. And we know that that is not the first time they've stated that.

COOPER: The report that I read in August said, Iran has not addressed the long outstanding verification issues or provided the necessary transparency to remove uncertainties associated with some of its activities.

And Mohamed ElBaradei was quoted as saying that he can't give you a clean bill of health yet.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Perhaps the report that you had and saw is incomplete. The IAEA has indicated that it has found no evidence that would show that Iran is developing nuclear energy for other purposes that are other than peaceful.

So I like to ask, I want to see the opportunity, are you positive that the United States of America, in fact, has not deviated from its own nuclear programs to develop perhaps nuclear devices that are not for peaceful purposes? The United States, are you telling me, is not building a nuclear bomb? Are you not concerned about that? We have -- there have been no evidence saying that we are doing any such activities. Then why should there be a fewer concern among people, among groups? But please go on.

COOPER: Well, you say that without a doubt, your program is for peaceful purposes. I mean if that is true, why not -- what the IAEA report that I read said that they've not had all of the interviews that they would like to have, they have not had all the documentation they would like to have.

Are you willing to provide them everything that they say they would like? Or do you feel it's inappropriate that they are pushing too much?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): We are working within the framework of international law. They might, for example, choose to interview me personally, well that would be stepping beyond the framework of international law.

So they have to tell us exactly what provisions of the MPT that they are speaking of which they believe we have not abided by. There's no such case. They are interested in getting more information and we're ready to cooperate with them provide them with all information within the framework of international law.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, that's what President Ahmadinejad said to me. But how does it stack up to reality? Coming up, a 360 fact check, point by point.

And later, a reality check from his own people. Their concerns, their expectations expressed in letters to their president, when "Showdown: Iran" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe Johns in Washington. More of "showdown: Iran" in a moment.

First, a "360 bulletin," starting at White House. Pakistan's President Musharraf meeting with President Bush today, all smiles in spite of a blockbuster of a headline. President Musharraf told "60 Minutes" that in the days after 9/11, a member of the Bush administration threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the stone age. This, unless Pakistan joined the war on terror. The official in question denies using those words. President Bush says it's all news to him. Today, praising Musharraf as an ally.

On to St. James in south central Missouri. It's a mess. You can blame a pair of tornadoes for that. More than a hundred houses damaged. A school and factory trashed. Luckily, no serious injuries in the kind of town where everyone knows everyone.

They work like magic, but sadly not here. One of those new trains that glides on a magnetic field crashed today in northwest Germany. It was on a test track going 125 miles an hour when it slammed into a maintenance car that somehow got in its way. At least 23 people died. Authorities suspect human error.

And at the Ryder Cup in Ireland, a tough day for Tiger. Tiger Woods and teammate Jim Furic all over the course. No match for Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald as Team U.S. ended the day down 5 to 3. Luckily, a lot more to come.

That's it from here. I'm Joe Johns. More "Showdown: Iran" after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: That was a celebration in Iran back in April, where dancers presented what was said to be the first container full of enriched uranium.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is anything but shy about his views on his country's nuclear program. And as he talked earlier, as he said earlier, he wants Israel wiped off the map. He also questioned whether the Holocaust ever happen. So, it should come as no surprise that his views in general don't exactly reflect reality.

Here's a 360 fact check from CNN's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Like a politician on the campaign trail, the Iranian president presents himself as a good humored, tolerant, educated man.

We must strive to achieve a world filled with peace, freedom, and justice, he says. But when he complains about America, foreign affairs analysts say many of his facts become at least questionable and maybe deceptive.

On nuclear weapons, the Iranian president deplores what he calls unbridled expansion and testing of more powerful warheads, apparently implicating the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two, one. FOREMAN: Unmentioned, the U.S. says it last tested a nuclear weapon 14 years ago this week, and has reduced its nuclear stockpile by more than two-thirds since the '60s.

He says Iranians are not building nuclear weapons and how could they with the International Atomic Energy Agency watching every move? Unsaid? Iran started its nuclear program in secret.

KEN POLLACK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: And when the IAEA first went in there, the Iranians flat out lied about what they were doing and it only took a lot of detective work, a lot of very good research by the IAEA to uncover the truth and to force the Iranians to admit to what has actually been happening.

FOREMAN: Ahmadinejad rails at America and its allies for influencing the politics of smaller nations. But his government, now the big power in the Middle East, does the same.

POLLACK: You've seen the Iranians support various opposition groups, support various terrorist groups, support various resistance and political opposition figures. Something which if the United States or Great Britain did in Iran, Ahmadinejad would be up in arms about.

FOREMAN: He questions if the Holocaust happened, though history says it did. He says hundreds of innocent Iraqis are killed every day, though death tolls suggest much lower numbers. And American officials say Iran, itself, is behind some of the groups doing the killing.

He says, he loves all people of all faiths, but condemns the people of Israel and dismisses all arguments on their behalf.

Zionists are Zionists, period, he says. The are not Jews, they are not Christians and they are not Muslims. They are a power group.

(on camera): Politicians stretch the truth. It comes with the job. But for official Washington, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comes with the question, does he believe what he says?

(voice-over): How much is a sales job? How much is a snow job? And does he snow the difference?

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: It appears there's no end to the war of words between President Bush and the Iranian president. Both used their speeches before the U.N. to attack each other's policies. And we've seen them use the same tactics in their interviews with the media.

Earlier I spoke with CNN's Wolf Blitzer and CNN's senior international correspondent John Roberts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: When you hear the president, and compare that to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I mean some of the statements that Ahmadinejad has made have certainly raised so many eyebrows in the U.S., around the world, about the Holocaust, about wiping Israel off the map.

How do you think he played here?

BLITZER: Well, you notice that his remarks at the United Nations general assembly, he didn't get into the Holocaust, didn't get into destroying Israel, a lot of boiler plate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was trying to present presumably a moderate, more responsible image. I don't think he plays very well and certainly the United States, I'm not sure, plays well in much of the rest of the world.

He does have this constituency. There's great fear of him in much of the Arab world because he's a Shiite, of course, and most of the Arab world are led by Arab Sunnis. So there's no great love for him, whether in Egypt or Jordan or Saudi Arabia and so much of the Arab world. There's a real problem there.

I'm not sure he or President Bush, for that matter, changed many minds. They both delivered remarks that were pretty standard, pretty well known. And I don't think that either one of them necessarily had much of an impact.

COOPER: John, both men, both presidents, trying to speak directly to each other's countries' populations. Bush speak directly to the Iranian people. Do you think that played?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that they probably played to a draw. I think that President Bush gave a much more conciliatory speech this time around than he has in previous years, talking about the spread of freedom, talking directly to people in countries like Syria and Sudan and in Iran.

Though, you know, Iranians really do like America, they feel like they have a lot in common with America. They are very nationalistic about this idea of the nuclear program. So when the president gets into that area, perhaps he loses a few people.

And Ahmadinejad, you know, for all of the outrage that he causes among many people in the West, you know, he sounds very pragmatic to people on the streets of Arab countries. Maybe he does not curry a lot of favor with the leaders of countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia as much as he would in Iran. But on the Arab street, people like him because he's standing up to the United States.

And when he gets into the axis, this partnership with Hugo Chavez, who is now turning many countries in South America against this White House. The two of them form quite a dynamic duo. And I think, Anderson, that they could create a lot of problems for this president in his remaining two years.

COOPER: So what happens if this war of words deteriorates into some kind of shooting war? We're going to look at how far along the planning now is, what a strike would like, and why we might have to do it again and again over the years. That's next, when "Showdown: Iran," continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: There's always the risk of seeing pictures like these and mistakenly assuming that your adversary is 10 feet tall. Iran is not. But it does have a large army, about 1,500 tanks and a modern air defense system.

Perhaps more importantly, it has power to answer air strikes with terror attacks or send the price of oil skyrocketing. These are some of the factors that make life complicated for military planners, as well as their civilian bosses.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre takes a closer look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The objective, stop Iran from being able to enrich enough uranium to make a nuclear bomb.

BUSH: Imagine a Middle East with an Iran with a nuclear weapon, threatening free nations.

MCINTYRE: The military option, preemptive air strikes by American stealth bombers, strike aircraft and cruise missiles. Using the latest bunker-busting munitions in an air assault lasting several nights and dropping thousands of bombs.

COL. SAM GARDINER, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): I'm not going to answer about confirming or denying any plans that we may have. I can tell you we can deal with any problem that comes up militarily in the region.

MCINTYRE: The potential targets, more than two dozen nuclear facilities spread across Iran. Some secret, some deep underground and some in populated areas that would have to be hit multiple times.

GARDINER: Most people that have a sense of the Iranian nuclear program say it has two parts, the part we see, and that's the part we can target.

And then there's probably a part we don't see.

MCINTYRE: The best case scenario is Iran simply rebuilds, and military action is needed in another two to five years.

Worst case, Iran retaliates, sponsors terrorism, attacks U.S. troops in Iraq disrupts oil shipments through the Persian Gulf, pushing gas prices to record highs and inflames anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world.

TRITA PARSI, NATIONAL IRANIAN AMERICAN COUNCIL: In the rest of the Middle East, we're working very hard to win the hearts and minds of the people. In Iran, we just need to make sure we don't lose it. By the first bomb, we will lose it.

STEPHEN BIDDLE, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I think at the end of the day we may very well end up deciding that we'd rather live with a nuclear Iran and deter them from using the things once they get them, than to do the things we have to do to prevent them.

MCINTYRE (on camera): Pentagon sources say all of the planning for possible military action in Iran comes under the category of prudent and routine contingency planning. Nothing more at this point. And the possibility of a ground invasion is even more remote, considering the U.S. military has its hands full in the two countries that flank Iran -- Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Not great options.

Straight ahead, we'll move on to perhaps the overlooked dimension to this showdown, the Iranian people and their relationship to their president in words and letters, when "Showdown: Iran" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: By outward appearance, Iran's president seems pretty ordinary and by reputation, he is something of a man of the people.

CNN's Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour recently put that reputation to the test, traveling outside Tehran, asking ordinary Iranians for their thoughts and as you'll see, for their letters to their president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Bander Abbas is Iran's biggest commercial port. But many of its people are poor. After three decades of economic mismanagement.

Iran's new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has come here today to promise that he'll change all that. An important message, especially now that he's confronting the West over Iran's nuclear program.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our neighbors, Pakistan and India, have nuclear technology. So why is the United States barring us from having it?

AMANPOUR: Most Iranians agree, but they also want to tell their president about their troubles at home. Today, these special mailboxes have been set up so they can send him their personal letters.

Tell me why you're sending letters to the president. Because we really think he'll deal with our problems, she says. He's ready to listen to our complaints and resolve them, like our job and housing problems.

He may or may not help us, says this woman, Zora (ph), but his presidency is enough for us and we thank God.

Partly because of his humble background, partly because of his fundamentalist Islamic faith. The president has many supporters here, like this local government official.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want Iran to be developed and Iran that will fight global arrogance. A fully pure Iran. And our president, Mr. Ahmadinejad, is really doing that.

AMANPOUR: But there are skeptics looking on, like Ali (ph).

(on camera): Ali says that we've been hearing this for 25 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it' not true. For 25 years we have seen progress.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Ali's letter to the president is an invitation to come and see how the city's poor are coping.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): You say you are one of us. So, please spare a moment to come and see how we live. There are 11 people in my house and I'm the only bread winner.

AMANPOUR: Ali lost his job two years ago. But somehow he has to provide for all those who depend on him.

(on camera): President Ahmadinejad said that he has come to help the poor people like you. Has he done?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We haven't seen anything tangible so far. Mr. Ahmadinejad, instead of dealing with our problems, is confronting other countries like the United States and Israel. This will only worsen the situation, not make it better.

Today, when I saw you I just wanted to spill out all of my troubles because nobody in this country listens to me.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But President Ahmadinejad's fiery rhetoric does draw crowds. His speech in Bander Abbas, the night we visited, was packed as he continued his trademark attacks on the U.S. And despite threats of harsh economic sanctions, which could drive the country further into poverty, he defiantly pledged not to be bullied into abandoning Iran's nuclear program.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I declare to the big powers of the world that Iran and the Iranian government will follow the path to achieve peaceful nuclear technology.

AMANPOUR: Later, back in the capital, Tehran, the president held a press conference. (on camera): You have said over and over again that your priority is to serve the people. We have been talking to some of the people, particularly in Bander Abbas, which you just visited, and they tell us that they've heard these slogans over and over again and their life doesn't change and they get poorer.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I don't know which people you interviewed. If you mean the tens or hundreds of thousands of people who are there chanting slogans in support of the government, the president and his programs, it's obviously with us. But if you mean imaginary people that you have interviewed, so be it.

AMANPOUR: But there's nothing imaginary about poverty in Iran.

This is southern Tehran, an Ahmadinejad stronghold. He based his presidential campaign around a promise to make life better for Iran's poor. But if Iran is further isolated, if sanctions are imposed, he'll have a hard time delivering. Iran itself says that 20 percent of its people live below the poverty line, while many outside sources say it could be double that figure.

Back in Bander Abbas, poverty is also driving Ali to despair. Tonight, like every night, he'll cruise the streets using his own car as a taxi. On a good night, he can make $8. But gypsy cabs like his are illegal. And if he's caught, he'll get a $10 fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This dilapidated car is my only source of income and I have nothing else. I see absolutely no life for the future. I don't see a better tomorrow.

AMANPOUR: Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Bander Abbas, Iran.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Iran watchers say unless Mahmoud Ahmadinejad improves the Iranian economy, it's very possible he will not get re-elected in the next elections.

We'll have more of 360 in a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has returned to Tehran, but the showdown with Iran continues.

Thanks for watching this special edition of 360.

"LARRY KING" is next.

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