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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Aired September 25, 2009 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, President Obama slams Iran for building a second and secret nuclear facility.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad answers back in a prime time exclusive -- why does his country need two uranium enrichment sites?
Plus, why did thousands upon thousands protest his reelection?
KING: Why did the authorities respond with beatings and arrests and worse?
Why does he say Iran is an opportunity for everyone, including the USA?
And why does he call the Holocaust, in his words, "a lie and a mythical claim?"
One of the world's most controversial leaders, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We're in New York with President Ahmadinejad of Iran.
Thank you for coming.
Mr. President, just hours ago, President Obama announced that the United States, Great Britain and France have given detailed evidence to the IAEA that Iran has been building a covert uranium enrichment facility near Qom for several years.
Let's listen to some of his statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Iran's decision to build yet another nuclear facility, without notifying the IAEA, represents a direct challenge to the basic compact at the center of the nonproliferation regime. These rules are clear. All nations have the right to peaceful nuclear energy. Those nations with nuclear weapons must move towards disarmament. Those nations without nuclear weapons must forsake them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And Mr. President, he also says that Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow by hiding your nuclear facilities.
How do you respond?
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful, the president recites verses in Arabic in prayers.
I'd like to say, give my greetings to you and your colleagues and to your audience.
I did not really understand from Mr. Obama's statements, whether it's a good decision for Iran to inform the agency of its activities or not.
KING: I think he meant it was a good decision to inform.
Why not inform the agency?
AHMADINEJAD: We did inform the agency. So I don't understand exactly what he found fault with, the fact that we informed the agency about it?
KING: So are you saying that they always knew that you were building this facility?
AHMADINEJAD: The agency has a series of rules and regulations. And according to them, what is regulated is that every member state has a timeline of six months before the operational stage of a new facility is started to inform the agency of the upcoming operation. Now, having said that, any facility comprised of several sectors, just like any factory -- one part involves the structure of the building, then the pipelines and the setting in of the piping system and the electrical system, et cetera, after which you install the uranium enrichment equipment. Once those are installed, you infuse them with the required material to begin enrichment.
Now, every member state has six months before infusing the material for the enrichment process to begin to inform the agency of its facility. We informed the agency a year before the six month period was actually starting about the existence of the facility and its operations. So, in fact, we exceeded our commitment to the agency based on the regulations.
And so, is Mr. Obama really questioning why we informed the agency?
KING: Earlier, though, you told the editors of "Time" magazine that it would be a mistake for Obama to bring up this newly revealed nuclear plan.
Why -- why is this a mistake for him to bring him it up?
AHMADINEJAD: Well, I believe he's made a mistake. The mistake is very clear. We informed the agency even before we were required to about the facility's operation.
So how can he possibly accuse us of secretly engaging in an activity that did not take place?
This is a big mistake, accusing us of an action that did not take place.
So why the accusation?
We informed the agency ahead of the legal timeline.
Is that supposed to be a nice gesture or not?
KING: I'm a little mixed up. You did not admit the existence though of this plant until a couple of days ago.
Why -- why just a couple of days ago?
AHMADINEJAD: Who is it that we have to confess to here?
Who do we need to confess to out here?
Are we supposed to inform the agency or the head of these three states?
KING: All right. The IAEA...
AHMADINEJAD: We have to inform the agency.
KING: All right. The IAEA, as I understand it, wants Iran to provide specific information about an access to the facility as soon as possible.
So simply put, will you comply?
AHMADINEJAD: Well, that's fine. I mean, we can do that. Not a problem at all. And the agency can do that, based on the regulations. And we've informed them to allow them to carry out their responsibilities, based on the regulations that are out there.
When we inform them a year ahead of time, that is to allow the agency time to prepare for inspections.
KING: OK. They can have...
AHMADINEJAD: So if a country actually far exceeds the expectations over and beyond the legal time frame, should they be encouraged or not?
It seems to me that Mr. Obama made a serious mistake here, because this actually exactly violates the nature of the discussion he had at the United Nations.
KING: All right. So you're ready...
AHMADINEJAD: He said, at the United Nations, that previous U.S. administrations -- American administrations -- used misinformation and rumors to make decisions.
So how can he possibly make a decision of this nature and accuse a big nation such as ours of an action based on such information that was not correct?
We are following the law.
KING: OK. So you're providing the information and you're offering access.
And we'll be right back with the president of Iran right after this.
KING: We're back with the president of Iran.
It must be difficult to have so many people up in arms about you.
President Sarkozy of France accuses Iran of "taking an international community" -- "taking the international community on a dangerous path."
British Prime Minister Brown says that, "Due to the serious deception -- the serial deception of many years, the international community has not a choice but to draw a line in the sand."
Now, that's France, Britain and the United States.
How do you react?
All three are attacking you.
AHMADINEJAD: Well, Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Brown's statements really lack any legal credibility. And from our standpoint, what they say is not of much value. If they have the guts, they might as well resolve those problems that face them in France and in Britain.
Who exactly are they to decide about others around the world?
Where in the regulation specified by the IAEA does it say that France and Britain can actually make statements of this nature on their own?
We are member states of the agency. We are not a subcategory of Britain or France.
Mr. Larry King, it seems to me that they're still living in the colonial age. That time has passed.
KING: Doesn't it bother you that they say these things?
KING: It does not bother you?
AHMADINEJAD: Not at all. It doesn't matter to us.
KING: All right...
AHMADINEJAD: But what Mr. Obama says does matter.
AHMADINEJAD: We did not expect Mr. Obama, within less than 48 years -- 48 hours -- to basically violate the commitment that he spoke of at the United Nations. He said that he wants to bring about change -- to introduce changes. And we welcome that.
I believe that the American people are hopeful that these changes will occur, as are many other nations around the world. We feel that giving information that is not correct to the American president does not help America's standing in the world. And I believe it is his mission to restore the American standing in the world in some way.
So this statement was very weak...
KING: So are you...
AHMADINEJAD: ...and it's kind of illogical, given that we have cooperated with the IAEA and now are being accused of non-cooperation.
KING: Are you saying you're disappointed in the president of the United States?
AHMADINEJAD: We simply didn't expect him to say something that was...
KING: All right. President Sarkozy...
AHMADINEJAD: ...that was baseless.
KING: President Sarkozy also said if by December, there is not an in-depth change by the Iranian leaders, sanctions will have to be taken. Now, there already are sanctions.
How will you respond if additional sanctions are imposed on you, which appears likely?
AHMADINEJAD: There are two points I'd like to clarify. One is with respect to Mr. Obama. Now, nobody can forget how Mr. Tony Blair encouraged Mr. Bush to carry out militaristic actions.
Now where is Mr. Tony Blair these days?
Where is Mr. Bush these days?
Were the measures taken in favor of the United States of America?
Were they in favor of the world?
Do they benefit the world?
Now, a second point that I want to say is that whoever sanctions Iran is, in fact, sanctioning itself. The time for sanctions has passed. It belongs to the previous generation. And it's one of those things that needs change.
How do you think that it's possible to speak about an open economy and free trade and sanctions all at the same time?
It's impossible. I mean, sanctions tend to lose in a global environment where world markets are offered openly, especially when we're speaking of Iran and against Iran.
Iran is a powerful country.
Haven't we been sanctioned so far?
For four years they've been placing sanctions on us and our economy is still growing and Iran is advancing.
So what Mr. Sarkozy says is really -- I would say, lacks value, from our standpoint. It is regrettable that an individual like him is the president of France.
KING: We'll ask you in a minute what dangers Iran might face from this, after this.
KING: We're back in New York with the president of Iran.
Are you concerned that, in view of this -- these actions, Israel may take action against you?
AHMADINEJAD: No. No.
KING: You don't think they might strike -- strike this new...
KING: ...nuclear face?
Do you know Iran?
Have you seen Iran?
KING: I've never been there.
AHMADINEJAD: Iran is a very big country. It's a vast country. It's 1.750 million kilometers with 72 million people, with a 7,000- year-old civilization and a very important history and civilization with very great people.
The Zionist regime is far too small and little to be able to engage in an...
KING: But they could...
AHMADINEJAD: ...active aggression against Iran.
KING: They could...
AHMADINEJAD: It's not in their...
KING: They could...
AHMADINEJAD: ...capacity to want to engage in anything.
KING: They could take out a nuclear facility. They could.
You don't think so?
AHMADINEJAD: They will not make this mistake, because the response they will get from us will -- will be one which they will regret.
KING: We'll be back and talk about the elections in Iran right after this.
KING: We're back in New York with the president of Iran.
Your country has -- you've said, rather, that 40 million people participated in the June elections. Iran uses paper ballots. They're hand counted. Yet the Interior Ministry announced the official results less than 24 hours after the poll closed.
How could you count votes so quickly?
AHMADINEJAD: It's quite simple. If you're familiar with Iran's electoral process, you'll have the answer quite clearly.
Forty million votes in 46,000 polling stations -- so, on average, there are less than a thousand votes cast in every polling box and there were only four candidates. So you can count all of that within half an hour. It's a very simple task. And there were 500,000 people involved in the counting. So it's -- the counting is done very easily. It's not a difficult task.
KING: Now how do you explain, though, Mr. President, logically, thousands and thousands of your own countrymen take to the streets to protest the election, denounce it as a fraud?
How did you feel about that?
I mean, here all these people, thousands of people, complaining about their vote. As a president of an Islamic Republic, did you not feel some pain over that?
But what am I supposed to do?
Some people did not get votes and they have complaints. In any election, there's always a winner and someone loses. And that's precisely why you hold elections. Elections are meant for -- to, basically, people to see who wins and vote for the people they like. Now, say their party loses.
What are they supposed to do, go on the streets all the time?
That doesn't seem like the right thing to do either. There is a legal structure that defines how things are run, including the election process. Now, anyone who has a complaint can basically refer to the law and the law will take care of it.
KING: Didn't it concern you that these people were complaining that this was fraud?
AHMADINEJAD: Some people -- a few people said that. And they were angered. And that's fine. It doesn't really matter, because, in the end of the day, our nation is unified. You should really rest assured of that.
We've had over 30 fully free elections in the past 30 years. So people in our country, you know, interact in a friendly way. And if you wait, there will be future elections as well.
KING: Why did you crack -- why violence against women and children and the elderly?
You unleashed against the protesters. Protesters can protest. They protest all the time.
Why treat them violently?
Why take action?
AHMADINEJAD: Do you have the news from Pittsburgh today?
There were thousands and thousands of people there.
What were they protesting?
Why did the police use tear gas?
Why did they beat people up?
Why did they arrest people?
Could you tell me that?
KING: I don't justify it.
But why did you do it?
I'm asking about you. You're the guest.
Why did you treat women, children, hitting women and children -- why?
AHMADINEJAD: Very well. And I'm asking you. I mean, at some point, the police is forced to get engaged. It doesn't make us happy when it happens.
But so you know, most of the people who actually were harmed as a result of the protests and the chaos that followed the elections in Tehran were pro-government individuals, not people who were opposed to this government. The majority of them were actually out there defending the government.
So in principle, what happened was not a good thing. But again, if someone's voted into office, there's no need to have chaos in the country afterwards -- or agitations.
However, having said that, I believe that some British and U.S. officials made a mistake...
KING: Yes. Did you make...
AHMADINEJAD: ...in that process as well.
KING: Did you make the decision to crack down?
You -- you had mass trials after this. No lawyers. People were imprisoned without charges.
That's -- that's not done in -- that's not done in an Islamic Republic, is it?
That's not done.
AHMADINEJAD: Most of it -- I mean, all of the people who went on trial had actually been trained (ph). Both the attorneys said that they acted freely and the -- basically, the plaintiffs also said that they had enough time to review what they had done and they admitted the mistakes they had done. And actually, the courts were open enough to basically take care of due process of law and allow for the trials to happen. And all this was done within a legal framework.
Now I ask you, do you know exactly the number of prisoners here in the United States?
3.6 million people.
KING: I don't think there are any political...
AHMADINEJAD: Oh, you probably don't know.
KING: I don't know if there are any...
AHMADINEJAD: I mean allow me...
KING: I don't think there are...
AHMADINEJAD: Allow me.
KING: I don't think there are prisoners...
AHMADINEJAD: Do you know, on a daily basis, how many people are killed in prisons here in the United States of America?
KING: Killed in prison?
No, I don't think -- but I don't think many protesters of elections...
AHMADINEJAD: Yes, killed.
KING: ...are in prison.
AHMADINEJAD: I'm speaking of killed...
KING: I don't think many protesters in elections...
AHMADINEJAD: ...in Iran.
KING: All right. We'll come right back.
Don't go away.
KING: Back to the elections, Mr. President, we know that people were beaten, raped, murdered. The Ayatollah even criticized what was going on.
Surely, you must, in retrospect, say I did something wrong. Surely you must say that.
AHMADINEJAD: I had no involvement in those accidents and what happened.
KING: Accidents? You had no involvement?
AHMADINEJAD: No, not at all. I did not have any involvement.
In fact, in our country, you must understand that our judicial system works independently, and judicial responsibilities are carried out, and enforced as an independent body of enforcement. And whoever violates the law has to be taken care of in accordance with the legal structure. There are punishments there, and I do not have control over the judicial system.
In your own country, does the president have the ability to order a judge what to do? Can he?
AHMADINEJAD: And then what happens to justice here? It's the same in our country.
KING: Did you make any decisions with regard to the protesters? Did you say -- instruct police to --
AHMADINEJAD: It was not necessary. It was not necessary.
The law decides what everyone should -- how everyone should be dealt with. Whoever violates the law has to appear before the judicial system of the country. And the judicial system of the country takes care of it.
This is a quite clear logic out there. Nobody cracks down on the -- it was a violation of the law that had to be dealt with by the law.
KING: Let's discuss the violent death of a young woman Neda. During the June protests, she was captured on video and shown around the world. Everybody saw it, and you have said that her killing is being treated as a suspicious death.
What does that mean? Is there an investigation? What have you learned? What happened to Neda?
AHMADINEJAD: Now, let's see what happened.
First of all, it's indeed regrettable. I'm very sorry that one of our fellow citizens was killed, especially a person who wasn't -- I mean she was not a person who was not in a protest, and she was walking on a side street where no demonstrations were happening.
According to basically the report issued by -- she was killed by a small rifle. It was a closed shot, in other words. And that leaves a serious question in our mind unanswered.
Now, when she was proceeding from the main street, there was a camera recording her movements for about 100 meters while she was walking. The same camera that then publicized the scenes of her death.
KING: So what are you saying?
AHMADINEJAD: Allow me. So, she was being watched by this camera that were then used. I mean, the footage was used in Europe and the United States to show her death.
Now, we were quite surprised, how come the same camera should not show who the killer was?
KING: OK. But there were demonstrations --
AHMADINEJAD: Allow me.
KING: All right. There were demonstrations there, and there were cell phone cameras as well. There wasn't just one camera.
AHMADINEJAD: No. Allow me.
What kind of -- two cameras were there taking basically -- were seen. You're an expert in this field. You know how exactly from a photo shot or from a picture how many cameras were used. And we knew that there were two.
And she was coming from her music class. Her own music teacher said that she was coming from her music class. But the camera that was following her for very long periods of time failed to show who the killer is, so that we can find the killer and go after him. We really do want to do that.
KING: But there were cell phone cameras everywhere there. There were thousands of cell phone cameras.
What are you implying, though? I mean, what are you saying?
AHMADINEJAD: Allow me. Allow me.
KING: OK. All right.
AHMADINEJAD: The same person who used the mobile camera for tens of minutes, basically following this lady, can at least release the picture of the murderer, so that we know who he is and go after him, so that our judicial system can basically arrest the person? Now, if there is a camera that can actually follow a person for tens of minutes, how is it logically possible for the same camera to fail to show who the murderer is?
This is a question mark in our mind. And I want to inform you that in a coup that was staged against Mr. Chavez in Venezuela, a very similar scenario was carried out. A young lady was walking under the watchful eyes of a camera --
KING: All right. What are you implying?
AHMADINEJAD: Allow me. And Mr. Chavez' government then was accused of killing that girl. Now, those who staged the coup in Venezuela we know were supported by the U.S. administration at the time.
KING: All right. I've got to get a break.
AHMADINEJAD: And this was not this, you know, random act of violence.
KING: All right. You're implying it was planned.
All right. I've got to get a break. We'll come right back.
KING: Back to the subject -- oh by the way, opposition leaders like Mr. Mousavi, are they being targeted for arrest?
AHMADINEJAD: It's not my decision. It relates to the judiciary. And it is a judge that decides.
KING: Do you have -- you have no say?
AHMADINEJAD: As I said, judges are acting independently in these arms and according to our Constitution everyone is equal before the law without exception.
KING: OK how about --
AHMADINEJAD: Speaking of independent judges here.
KING: Has anyone in Iran security forces, forget judges, been punished in any way in connection with the government's response to the protesters? In other words, there doesn't have to be a charge brought. Have you, as the leader of the country, ordered any punishment to those members of your security forces who committed acts that were improper?
AHMADINEJAD: Yes. Yes.
KING: You have taken action against them?
AHMADINEJAD: I have asked the judiciary no matter in what position does has one who has violated the law. And people should be dealt with without any restrictions, even if it is an officer of the law. If there is a violation, it must be dealt with.
Now in the judiciary system, a senior task force of judges has come together just to take care of the specific events that transpired after the elections. They are following through every case before them. And it doesn't matter who's violated the law, they'll all come before the law.
KING: OK. Moving through another topic. Yesterday at the U.N., Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu denounced you as a Holocaust denier and he held up blueprints, blueprints of Auschwitz. Blueprints as evidence of the Nazi effort to exterminate the -- I may get personal for a moment. Don't mind me. I'm Jewish. I have had relatives, cousins, that were killed. How can you deny what is an obvious fact?
AHMADINEJAD: Do you want me to speak about it?
AHMADINEJAD: You really would like me to speak about it?
KING: Of course.
AHMADINEJAD: What my understanding of the Holocaust is, is the need to raise a number of questions. And I actually have raised those questions. But unfortunately, my work has been distorted by the media. And it is sort of a new form of information is replaced what was the very questions that I first initially raised. And then they call it information or the free flow of information.
KING: All right.
AHMADINEJAD: As a University professor, I've had in my own mind several questions that I spoke out loud about it. And I thought everybody has a right to ask questions. Isn't that the case?
KING: So what --
AHMADINEJAD: I mean, do you think that raising question is a crime?
KING: What's the question?
AHMADINEJAD: I'll tell you the questions on my mind again. I am saying if the Holocaust happened, should we not be asking ourselves where it happened? Isn't it the case that it took place in Europe?
KING: Of course.
AHMADINEJAD: Hmm, very well. Who were the perpetrators?
KING: The Germans.
AHMADINEJAD: What role did the Palestinian people play in what happened?
KING: Wait a minute. That's another story. I'll get -- let me get a break in it. I understand, I understand --
AHMADINEJAD: Why should other people be punished?
KING: Let me get -- I'll get right back with that. Don't go away.
KING: We're back with the President of Iran. All right. We can discuss the Palestinian -- I understand that point. Are you saying though -- are you denying that a Holocaust existed? Are you -- will you acknowledge here tonight that there was a Holocaust? That six million Jews were exterminated by the Germans? That's all I'm asking. We'll get to the Palestinian issue in a minute. Are you denying that?
AHMADINEJAD: I am an academic. I don't speak like a journalist. And I do not wish to speak non-academically. What I have in my mind is an academic question, so if you can bear with me and listen to these questions, we'll welcome any answers you have to give me. If you can't answer my questions, I'll really welcome any other person who wants to answer the question. Unless we answer the question, I can't be convinced. So the question was where did it take place? You said, "In Europe." I said, "Who were the perpetrators?" And you said, "Germans." And my third question is was -- was the crime committed by the Palestinians --"
AHMADINEJAD: -- to be forced to sort of be punished as a result of --
KING: No, it was not committed by the Palestinians.
AHMADINEJAD: So very well. Very well said. Excellent.
KING: But my question was --
AHMADINEJAD: Establish -- allow me -- establishing the Zionist regime, using the holocaust as an excuse. I mean that is what happened, because the holocaust happened, they said, and the Jewish people were oppressed, and the Jewish people need an independent government. And where in the world? In Palestine.
And we think, well, what exactly does this have to do with Palestine?
KING: Well, I -- I understand that -- intellectually understand that --
AHMADINEJAD: Allow me. Allow me. Listen, please allow me.
KING: But, no, but the question. There was one simple question that you can clear up, and then we can discuss where the Zionist state was established. Do you agree there was a Holocaust?
AHMADINEJAD: Allow me to raise a second question, and you'll get your answer. You'll have your answer then, if you bear with me.
Now, as for the second part of my question. Now, there are many historical events. Many things have happened throughout history. Throughout World War II, 60 million people were killed. They all matter. They were all human beings. We have to respect each and every life that was lost in the course of the Second World War.
Now, if the Holocaust is indeed a historical event, why is it that politicians care so much about it? Usually, politicians -- allow me -- usually, politicians do not give so much attention to historical events. So my question is exactly -- what result was to be derived of the event that happened that made it so important? How did it influence what we see today? I mean, what is the connection --
KING: All right. I understand.
AHMADINEJAD: -- between this event and what goes on in the world right now? I think -- it seems --
KING: I'd better get a -- let me get a break. AHMADINEJAD: -- it seems that when I ask this question, some people are biased. And you have to allow me. Allow me.
KING: I know. I know, but I've got a time commitment here that's crazy.
We'll be right back.
KING: Couple of other the areas I want to cover, so the next time we'll get to this in fuller discussion.
AHMADINEJAD: We have to finish this discussion on this topic.
KING: We will, but all that I want --
AHMADINEJAD: You have to give me a minute on this.
KING: I know what you're saying. I just said -
AHMADINEJAD: I mean, remember; you cannot violate the rights of the office here.
KING: All -- I understand that, but all I wanted to know is do you agree that there was a Holocaust. That's a simple yes or no. Do you agree that there was a Holocaust?
AHMADINEJAD: If you bear with me, I'll give you an answer.
KING: OK. No, I'm, uh -- OK. Was there a Holocaust?
AHMADINEJAD: You want to impose your viewpoint on me. I mean, why?
KING: No, it's not a viewpoint. It's a question.
AHMADINEJAD: Why do you want to impose your opinion on me? It doesn't work that way. Right now in Europe, there are historians and scholars who have differences of opinion on the subject of the Holocaust.
KING: You're kidding?
AHMADINEJAD: I'm not a historian. I have nothing -- I -- it's --history, I leave that alone.
KING: What is your --
AHMADINEJAD: I am focused on the results of all that on our lives today. I'm not a historian otherwise. All I could see is that a historical event was used, is being used in order to carry out genocide in Palestine and I'm opposed to genocide.
KING: I -- I understand that.
AHMADINEJAD: It's genocide that I am opposed to.
KING: All right. I've got to get another break.
AHMADINEJAD: You know, why is it that the Palestinian people should be, uh, subjected to genocide?
KING: I understand that. I understand all that.
AHMADINEJAD: That is my question.
KING: And you have -- you make that point well.
AHMADINEJAD: I mean, that's it. That's the question. OK?
KING: And I only ask this just --
AHMADINEJAD: And a lot of things have happened in history as the --
KING: But you don't -- you can share that one viewpoint and not be a denier. OK. All right. I've got to get through another subject. All right.
AHMADINEJAD: And I think -- I -- I think --
KING: I understand what you're saying.
AHMADINEJAD: -- it's -- it's the European that has allowed historians and scholars to freely engage and research that involved the event and discuss all their points of differences and come to the consensus and tell everyone what they're think, that would be a great step, but unfortunately, even when a member of parliament sort of says something that goes against the common, uh, plain, uh, they're ousted from parliament in Europe. I mean, that's why we have
KING: I need to take a break. We still need -- we still need research. Mr. Netanyahu didn't prove it to you yesterday? All right. We'll be right back. More moments.
AHMADINEJAD: I know.
KING: Don't go away.
KING: One other area I have to ring up for the American audience as well. Three American hikers have been detained by Iran since July. You said that they trampled on Iranian law and they need to be punished. You also said Iran is ready to engage in reciprocal action with regards to their possible release. We know that their families may be watching tonight, probably are watching. What is the status of those three hikers?
AHMADINEJAD: Um, they're fine. They violated a law by entering our territory without a permit and I think here in the United States you -- there are heavy punishments awaiting people who walk into the country without a permit.
KING: What is their punishment?
AHMADINEJAD: So now, the judicial system is taking care of their case. And they're the law. They'll just follow through with the law. The judge will take care of the case.
KING: Can you pardon? Can you release them?
AHMADINEJAD: Of course.
KING: Can you release them?
AHMADINEJAD: I've said that I'm not happy that they -- that they are in prison. I'm not happy, uh, because -- over that and I do hope that they are released.
KING: Can you forgive them and release them. So they -- they're not committing harm. They're not terrorists.
Can you forgive them and release them?
AHMADINEJAD: I don't know what law they violated, exactly the precise nature of the violations that they were involved with. I am hoping it's not a serious violation. And even pardons in our country are given based on within a legal structure. If it were to me, I want all prisoners to be released --
KING: Will you look into --
AHMADINEJAD: -- and I'm not happy that this happened.
KING: Will you look into it?
AHMADINEJAD: Yes, I can do that.
KING: One other thing.
Do you expect Iranian-American relations to improve?
It's a dark day, but do you expect it to improve?
AHMADINEJAD: Yes. I think that the principle of relations among countries is based on -- on nations is based on the need to interact. Interaction and relations should be the principle and are the principal one that are friendly, that are -- that are constructive, that are fair and based on mutual respect -- respect for another one. These are the principles of relations among nations and we certainly hope that this will happen.
KING: Are you pretty sure -- are you confident?
AHMADINEJAD: Of what?
KING: Of better relations?
You are confident, I hope.
AHMADINEJAD: I am very hopeful. I think that it will happen.
KING: Thank you very much, Mr. President.
It's always good to see you.
Over the weekend, you'll see broadcasts of Bill Clinton and Michael Moore and Moammar Gadhafi on Monday night.
Thanks for joining us.
Anderson Cooper and "AC 360" right now.