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Interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Aired October 21, 2011 - 22:42   ET


PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): First of all, I'd like to say hello to all those who are now watching this program.

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Thanks so much for talking with us, Mr. President.

Let me begin with something that's fresh in the news. President Obama has said that all American troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year.

In light of this announcement, will your government increase its efforts to train the Iraqi Army, since there will be a need in Iraq for training

And support, will the Iranian government be providing greater support in that area?

AHMADINEJAD: I think we should -- we should have done it sooner, maybe seven or eight years ago, and they would avoid killing so many Iraqi people or Americans, as well. I think they should have done it much earlier.

But the people in the Iraqi government did not accept the increased presence of the Americans. The Iraqi government is independent and sovereign. They should decide how to provide trainings for their military personnel. We should wait for the decision of the Iraqi government.

ZAKARIA: But do you expect that Iran's engagement and involvement with the Iranian government will now increase as a result of the American withdrawal?

AHMADINEJAD: I don't think there is going to be any change. We have a special relationship with Iraq. It is a historical relationship between the two governments and the two nations.

We have a lot of relationship -- consular relationships. We have common -- commonalities in a faith and we have visitors from both sides, more than a million from Iran and Iraq.

Many Iraqis -- Iraqi nationals -- were born in Iran and many Iranians, we have intermarriage.

And we have a very friendly and amicable relationship with the Iraqi people. The government of Iraq, the parliament, we have a very good relationship with all of them. And -- and we have an extensive relationship with the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government.

And we have deepened our ties day by day.

We have these ties in faith and many of our religious clerics are from Iraq and many Iraqis are Iranian. And we have people in seminary schools from both sides.

So this is a special relationship and I think it is very unique in the world. So we have maintained this friendly relationship for a long time

Although there was a war between the two nations during the two -- during Saddam Hussein, but they were not able to disturb this relationship.

ZAKARIA: Moammar Gadhafi is dead.

What is your reaction to the news of his death?

AHMADINEJAD: The -- it was no different. We think it is the will of the people that should work and prevail everywhere -- justice, freedom and respect to people. This is the right of all nations.

But, of course, we feel very sorry that people are being killed, everybody. I wish everybody would respect justice

Freedom and there was no need for any conflict or clash.

In the beginning, we recommended a dialogue between the two sides and all parties, but they did not pay attention to our recommendations. And, of course, NATO intervention was effective in exacerbating the conflict.

We have not received any statistics about the losses from both sides and I think instead of intervention, NATO could help to promote a dialogue among all parties.

ZAKARIA: You say that the will of the people should prevail everywhere. But in Syria, the government of Syria is engaging in a very brutal crackdown, even a massacre. The...

Turkey, which has been very friendly to Syria and to the Assad regime, has broken with the regime and now has publicly called for President Assad to step down.

Will you add your voice and call on the Assad regime to step down and listen to the will of the people?

AHMADINEJAD: We have a friendly relationship both with Turkey and Syria. Our policy is independent. We think we should respect the independence and sovereignty of all nations, of everywhere in the world, in the United States, in Europe. Justice and democracy and freedom must prevail, everything. We condemn killing and massacre, whether the killing of security forces or the killing of people and opponents.

We have a clear formula. We think all parties must sit and reach an understanding and there should be no intervention from outside or interference

Neither NATO nor us. We should allow nations to reach an understanding and they should be able to solve an understanding -- to solve their problems themselves.

So these killings are not going to solve any problem. And the impacts will show themselves in the long run. When people are killed, we create, as a matter of fact, a new spectrum of conflict.

Therefore, we recommend to all parties, the government, the opponents, they should reach an understanding. Justice and freedom must prevail everywhere in the world. And there should be no interference from outside. Countries in the region should not send arms and there should be no pressure on the part of the European countries.

ZAKARIA: But, Mr. President, you make it sound like the two sides are equal. In fact, what is happening in Syria is not that are protesters out killing the security forces. The vast majority of deaths are the security forces killing innocent men, women and children. Surely this is something you should condemn clearly, and not say both sides are to blame. If justice and freedom are the goal, it is important that President Assad hear your message.

AHMADINEJAD: Yes. Justice dictates that nobody should kill the other. Nobody, nobody, nobody has the right to kill others, neither the government nor the opponents. Our recommendation is very clear and it is a recommendation for all, as your last to (ph) United States, instead of capturing or arresting people, they should have -- hear the voice. They should listen to the people and they have things to say. And they should pay attention to the demands and requirements. We say that governments must be responsible for the requirements and desires of their own people, the security of the people and their rights. And these are -- this is general for Iran, for Libya, for Syria, for Europe, United States, Africa, everywhere. And this is a general rule for all. We have announced that many times.

And we are going to make greater efforts to encourage both the government of Syria and the other side, all parties, to reach an understanding. But I think and we believe that there should be no interference from outside. The positions of the United States are not going to help. They have never helped. They could do things better in Libya, for example. From the very beginning, we've said there should be an international team to mediate in order to encourage all parties to reach an understanding. But NATO had ambitions in Libya. They wanted the oil resources in Libya. There was no need to kill so many people. This is the situation in Syria, too. Nobody should stand arms. They should -- nobody should interfere and we should all help to create (ph) an understanding. I think this is the best way.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you, President Ahmadinejad, about the controversy regarding the assassination plot. I know that you have denied it. You have done -- you have said that the Iranian government is not involved. The Supreme Leader has said the same thing. So let me ask you specifically: the United States government has alleged, has claimed that senior levels of the Quds Force are involved in this plot. Have you talked to General Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force, and can you tell us that he personally assured you that there was no involvement?

AHMADINEJAD: I think we must look into the root of the problem or the issue. The claims of the United States against our country has been continuing for more than 2-2-2 (ph) years and they create different problems. We should see what really United States held and supported the regime of Saddam Hussein. For what reasons did they have Saddam Hussein? Iran was the first country in the region that created a democracy and our leader, Imam Khomeini, said we want to be friends with all nations of the world (inaudible) set up Zionist regime. He also ignored the grand (ph) policies of the United States during the regime of the Shah. He said, we want to be friends with all. But the United States provoked the regime of the -- of Saddam Hussein. After the war, they continued political pressures against us. Then they accused us of violating human rights. And later, they created the nuclear issue and today they create and say such things. Do we need really to kill the ambassador of a brotherly country? What is the reason and the interest behind that? We are a civilized nation. We have a strong logic and this strong logic, we talk to all nations. We never have any intention to hurt Saudi Arabia. Do we really -- do we really want to do it in the United States? And is that a way really? We are going to create a new discourse, the discourse of justice, the discourse of humanity.

And we are going to have this discourse and dialogue between ruling government in the United States. It is not a military confrontation. It is not either a political confrontation. We say President Obama, it is in your best interest to cooperate with the nations and with the countries of the world. And I say, Mr. President, pull out from Afghanistan. I'm sincere. Iran and Afghanistan are two brotherly countries.

We can never be in conflict. We can never be at war.

ZAKARIA: Mr. President, have you spoken with General Suleimani, and has he assured you?

AHMADINEJAD: I don't need to talk about it.

ZAKARIA: So you haven't talked to him?

AHMADINEJAD: There is no need to do it. Because we have held many similar things from the United States. The whole world say Iranian people are wise. And we should see the motives in the United States.

We should find out -- find out the motive of the U.S. government. Some people say they are going to cover (ph) the internal issues and internal problems of the United States. They say things as if the national security of the United States has been jeopardized. And some people say this is intended to save the Zionist regime.

ZAKARIA: But the Saudi government seems to believe this. The Saudi government has been -- attacked Iran. So, clearly, you have a problem with Saudi Arabia, leave alone the United States. How will you fix that?

AHMADINEJAD: Yes. The -- these problems are imposed. These problems have been created under pressure. It is because of the interferences of the Western countries.

Otherwise, we have no problems with Saudi Arabia. There is no problem between the two countries. At the moment, there are more than 30,000 pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, and we have 1 million pilgrims from Iran to Saudi Arabia every year. People from both side are friends and but the problem is the Western interference, the same problem that existed once between Iran and Egypt. In reality, and practically, there was no problem between the two nations. We have had relationship with Egypt for more than a hundred years.

But they create tensions. They create problems among nations because they want to maintain their military bases in the region.

ZAKARIA: President Ahmadinejad, you have seen -- you're a man who reads a lot. You have seen -- you have seen the WikiLeaks cables, cabled from the U.S. ambassador in Saudi Arabia, quoting the king of Saudi Arabia, urging the United States to attack Iran and to, quote- unquote, "chop off the head of the snake."

This is not something the US is asking, this is something the Saudi government is saying because of their concerns about Iranian influence and its nuclear program.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Look. I think the information that are being published by (INAUDIBLE) must be planned work. We are not going to make polices based on this information.

We should receive information from reliable sources. We have no problem with the government of -- the governments of the region.

And we know that these problems are being provoked by outside forces. We don not recognize the Zionist regime because this regime is basically legitimate, we have no problems of the people of the United States. We love them. We have problems with the government of the United States.

And we think if the government of the United States remains committed to its obligations based on the Algerian treaty that had been reached 32 years ago, the government of the United States pledged to refrain from doing any acts against our country. But they did not remain committed to their obligations. Otherwise, we have no problem. Iran is an historical country, an old country, an ancient country. Iran is a vast country, and we have lived with other nations for centuries.

Our country all the time, the United States and its allies, I ask a question. What are the American bases doing in our region? Even the current year, they made military contract amounting to $90 billion with the countries of the region.

If the United States is not going to provoke tension in our region, and if they do not make artificial threats, they would not be able to sell their arms.

What are arms being used -- are they used for friendship? These polices are clear. They should divide, and then, they can prevail. But my recommendation is in the Middle East that they should not be influenced by the pressures of the United Sates.

And the United States is doing a very ugly thing. They are spending so much money for these military bases. They can spend this money for the American unemployed. They have more than 1,000 billions of dollars for military budget.

If they spend this money for the American economy, is it necessary for the people to go to Wall Street? Would there remain any difference or hostility? Whenever they resist hostility anywhere in the world, that could be attributed to the United States or to one of its allies.

ZAKARIA: So, let me ask you about a weapons program that is alleged to being pursued by Iran. Not the United States. That is the nuclear weapons program.

A senior official at the IAEA, the head of the safeguards, and a European, not an American, and a gentleman who says, just to make clear, what his basic position is, he says military action against Iran would be insane.

But he says that Iran has tricked and mislead the IAEA at every stage. He believes that you have been unable to prove the core issue that the IAEA is interested in, which is that you have a peaceful program and not a military program.

This is a European who thinks that any military action against Iran is insane, and yet he's saying that your government has simply tricked and misled them and is unwilling to provide assurances. How do you respond?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I should -- I think you should pay attention to some points. Who are making claims against Iran? It's against the United States. It's again the United States and its allies. That is one point. It is not new.

Second, who are dominating the IAEA? Is the agency independent? Then why in the past 40 years haven't they reported anything about the activities of the United States and its allies? Those who own nuclear bombs?

Whenever the United States is going to increase pressures against us, they change their reports, the second point.

Now, the third point. What do they want from us? They say you should prove that you are not ill. Can I prove that I am not ill? We can provide reason for an illness, but how -- what kind of reason can we provide for being healthy?

They say that you should prove something that there exists nothing. That is one point. But I also would like to raise two more points.

We have already expressed our views about nuclear bombs. We said those who are seeking to build nuclear bombs or those who stockpile, they are politically and mentally retarded. We think they are stupid because the era of nuclear bombs is over.

Iran, for example, should continue its efforts and tolerate all international treasures only to build a nuclear bomb or a few nuclear bombs that are useless? They can never be used? And he's not capable of confronting with the US nuclear arsenals.

The overall budget of our national atomic energy agency is $250 million, and the whole budget is aimed at peaceful activities. But the government of the United States only allocated $80 million for rebuilding the nuclear bombs. I think Iranians are clever enough to see that with this limited amount of money, $250 million, we are not able to be at war with the other side.

I also believe that any military action against Iran is sheer stupidity.

ZAKARIA: So, let me -- clarify for the world and give you an opportunity to present again what appears to be an Iranian offer.

Am I right in saying that Iran's position is, if the United States or -- sorry. If the world were to provide it with 20 percent enriched uranium, Iran would cease to enrich to that level.

And would keep to an enrichment level of five percent. And that you would allow full verification for the IAEA. The foreign minister said this recently, and this, of course, has been the crucial problem, which is that the IAEA has not felt it has gained full verification.

Is it the position of the government that you will now provide for unlimited inspections?

AHMADINEJAD: Full verification or full access, here again, another problem. We should prove we are healthy. All nuclear facilities in Iran are being monitored by the IAEA. You can see yourself. The cameras have been installed. They continue inspections. If you want to, for example, replace 100 grams -- 100 grams of materials, they should see that. That is an ambiguous requirement. For example, they want to see my and check my office. Or they may want to inspect all defense facilities in the country. Who is going to allow that? What is the government in the world to allow this? Is that in the statute of the IAEA?

Let me ask two questions. Why isn't the agency given a report about the activities of Japan, what happened in Fukushima? What material -- what materials exploded? Were they 3.5, uranium grade 3.5? They would never have special implications.

We have already told the director general of the IAEA but he is going to hide everything.

ZAKARIA: The reason is that there is this history of not being fully honest with the IAEA. That's why this -- the -- the head of the safeguards says Iran tricked and misled the IAEA. The Qom reactor is a reactor that -- that was only discovered because of intelligence. So when you say they can come into your facilities, they can only come into those facilities they know about. There's a whole set of facilities that might exist that they don't know about

Just like the Qom facility. That's the fear.

AHMADINEJAD: That is a false claim. The same claims -- we have written a letter from the agency that they have endorsed our reports. They have already raised six claims that Iran is concealing all these things.

But they have checked our documents and they have endorsed all the evidence Iran have provided.

Well, I ask a question. If you are not against the policies of the United States and if you are a -- an ally of the United States or a permanent member of the Security Council, would the agency talk about Iran in this way?

That is clear. Whoever is against the policies of the United States is either a terrorist or it is going to create a nuclear bomb or it is against human rights. These are allegations from the United States.

Now, look at the world. All dictators are either the friends of the United States or an ally.

The shah of Iran was a good friend of the West. They never criticized him. And until the last day, they supported him. They never condemned the way he killed people. And they were ready to sell a nuclear -- the nuclear technology.

But since Iran became independent and since our country was against the policies of the United States, they are launching accusations against us. Look at the situation inside -- everything in Africa, in Latin America. Wherever there is a dictatorship, the West is supporting that.

If tomorrow, we changed policies and we support the policies of United States in the region, immediately, Iran becomes a paradise. Now, look at the situation in Libya before these events. For 25 years, no senior official from our country has been -- had traveled to Libya, neither a president nor a vice president. And the Libyan president had never traveled to Iran. But show us an American, a European prime minister or president who never traveled to Libya.

Who is supporting dictatorship? Clearly, you can see the seam. The seam of the world is clear. I think instead of the -- doing all these things, the American administration should change policies. These policies are failed, both inside the United States and both globally.

And the U.S. administration must accept that the era of colonialism is over. They should respect other nations. They should recognize and respect the rights and independence of all nations. They have been doing this against us for 30 years. What have they gained?

We have made a good progress and the America -- the -- and the United States has become weaker and weaker. And now, they are hated in the region. They are hated in the whole world. Anywhere in the world, if you go, you see that. The U.S. government is hated. They should review their policies. They should stop accusing other countries. They should see where the problem is. Maybe the problem is really in the United States itself.

This is a friendly recommendation. Otherwise, we must be very much happy if they -- if their policies fail everywhere in the world. And we should encourage them, OK, go on, go on. And if you will not censor (ph), we should encourage the United States to remain in Iraq and in Afghanistan because they have already been mired in those two countries.

But we sympathize with all people of the world. We say why Afghans should be killed? Why American soldiers should lose their lives? Why they should spend so much money for killing people instead of using the money for development?

That is very simple. Maybe the U.S. administration does not accept that.

But believe me, continuation of these policies are going to lead to the collapse of the U.S. empire. And it is against the interests of the people of the United States.

ZAKARIA: Mr. President, a pleasure to have you.

Thank you so much.