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The Situation Room

President of Iran Speaks at the U.N.; Interview With Nancy Pelosi

Aired September 25, 2007 - 17:42   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So the president of Iran speaking now for about 38 minutes, just under 40 minutes before the United Nations general assembly, lashing out at the United States, albeit with some diplomatic code words, but making it clear he considers the United States a bullying power on a path of arrogance with obedience to Satan. Strong words, but perhaps the headline being that he says the nuclear issue involving Iran is now closed.
We have reporters who have been carefully watching this, including Suzanne Malveaux our White House correspondent who is in New York, Zain Verjee, our State Department correspondent also in New York.

Zain, let me start with you. I guess this is vintage Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: It is, you know, Wolf. We've been covering the diplomacy and the carefully worded statements by world leaders at the U.N. all day today. But there was nothing too careful here by the speech of Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He really didn't pull any punches here. He lashed out, as you said, at the United States, but interestingly enough he didn't actually say the U.S. He said certain powers, big powers, some powers. And then slid in selfish, incompetent, arrogant, have a disregard for morals. It was clear he was referring to the U.S. Here's one of his jabs.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Unfortunately, human rights are being extensively violated by certain powers, especially by those who pretend to be their exclusive advocates; setting up secret prisons, abducting persons, trials and secret punishments without any regard to due process; extensive tapping of telephone conversations, intercepting private mail and frequent summons to police and security centers have become commonplace and prevalent.

VERJEE: And the critical thing, as you pointed out Wolf in this speech, was that he says Iran has a right to a nuclear program. End of story. The issue is closed. He said although Iran would be willing to talk, that was how they would pursue it.

He also blasted the U.S. on Iraq saying the U.S. doesn't have the courage to admit defeat and exit Iraq and the only thing that matters, he said, is themselves.

He also criticized what he called the illegal occupation by Israel of Palestinian land and the big powers that support Israel.

The interesting thing, I think here, Wolf, to note is that the audience here isn't just us. It's not just Washington. It's also vintage Mahmoud Ahmadinejad positioning himself strategically to send a message to the entire world. Everything he's saying here really resonates with much of the Arab world, for example, and many people in Iran and in his part of the world. He's trying to make himself more popular, position himself as a key anti-U.S. player. And like any other world leader here, he is playing to his domestic constituency is back home that is anti-U.S., pro nuclear technology and hard line.


BLITZER: All right. Zain, stand by. Symbolically, so much symbolism at the United Nations general assembly.

Suzanne Malveaux, our White House correspondent, was watching and listening very carefully, as well.

By the way, the U.S. mission, the U.S. delegation was virtually empty. One low-ranking American diplomat there simply as a note taker taking notes. But you didn't see the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. You didn't see Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. They specifically boycotted this session.

There you see the picture of a low-ranking note taker simply sitting in the U.S. delegations chairs at the general assembly.

Suzanne, I want to play another little clip of what Ahmadinejad said blasting the United States.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): A bullying power allows it the right to set up a missile system, makes the life of the people of the continent bitter and lays the ground for an arms race. Some rulers who superficially appear to be powerful believe the tools they have at hand can be used at any time and for any purpose, and consequently, threaten others and cast the shadow of insecurity over nations and regions.

BLITZER: Most of his speech, just under 40 minutes, Suzanne, directly going after the United States, albeit in some coded words but everyone fully understood what he is referring to with that reference to the last five years, clearly the five years since the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. But that was quite a contrast from what we heard from President Bush earlier in the day. He made two very brief references to Iran when he addressed the United Nations general assembly.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, you are absolutely right and President Bush notably is at his hotel right now with some down time. And also, a senior administration official saying yesterday that Ahmadinejad wasn't invited to the social dinner. I mean clearly the symbolism there is and the strategy here is to convince people that they're not paying any attention to this guy, that they're ignoring him. Clearly they are at least listening to the message here. But yes, President Bush, one line in his speech to the U.N. general assembly earlier today simply saying in Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Iran, brutal regimes deny their people of fundamental rights enshrined in the universal declaration.

Now I spoke with White House Press Secretary Dana Perino yesterday about some of the comments that Ahmadinejad made at Columbia University. She issued a statement. I just got a Blackberry email from her just a minute ago simply saying that she is going to let the statements she made yesterday stand for themselves. And that's what she said yesterday was that look, it doesn't matter what he says today. It's about his actions, not his words. She says that it's about confidence in our own democracy that we're allowing Ahmadinejad to be here in this kind of public forum. But clearly, they are trying to dismiss and marginalize what is saying today. But they are also really trying to get a third resolution to the U.N. Security Council, tougher sanctions. And Wolf, that's going to be a very difficult thing to do.

BLITZER: Especially now, Suzanne, that the president of Iran, and we just heard him declare that the nuclear issue as far as Iran is concerned is now closed. That is a direct quote, as far as the International Atomic Energy Agency is concerned. He says this issue is now closed. Clearly going in the face of not only what the United States, but the western Europeans, the Russians and the Chinese want as well.

Suzanne, thanks very much. Suzanne is in New York watching all of this.

The Iranian president drew some laughs and jeers at his speech yesterday at Columbia University when he said there are no gays in Iran. Critics say not only are there gays in Iran, but that Mr. Ahmadinejad's government persecutes them, even executes them simply for being gay.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's been looking at this part of the story.

What is the status of gays in Iran, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, we've spoken to gay activists from Iran who say that even going underground with your orientation there does not ensure your safety. Given that they say they are not surprised at President Ahmadinejad's remarks yesterday.

Pressed on allegations that his government brutally punishes homosexuals, he goes further than a standard denial.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country. We don't have that in our country.

TODD: An Iranian official later told CNN Ahmadinejad meant to say Iran simply doesn't have as many homosexuals as there are in the United States. But gay rights activists from Iran say either way, it's virtually impossible to be openly gay there. People suspected of homosexuality, they say, are persecuted at work, sometimes forced to quit their jobs; expelled from schools. Their families are harassed. Even if they try to go underground ...

HOSSEIN ALIZADEH, INTL. GAY & LESBIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION: The government controls Internet, controls your phone conversation, controls your mail, and so if you are using a chat room to connect to other people, you are risking your life basically.

TODD: Risking your life because homosexuality is illegal and gay sex is a capital crime in Iran.

In 2005, these two teenage boys were executed, accused by the government of raping another boy. Human rights groups say the real reason was homosexual behavior. But the state department says it has been unable to get any concrete information on the case.

Activists and cultural observers say under Iranian law four men have to witness a homosexual act for it to be punishable by death. If there aren't enough witnesses they say, lashes are common punishment.

AZAR NAFISI, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: This is not so much a culture problem, but an ideological problem. I think in Iran, at least, where you have what you can call theocracy, they have confiscated and interpreted religion in an ideological manner. As you know, not all Muslims believe in this sort of a thing.

TODD: How does the Koran interpret this? Islamic scholars tell us the Koran terms homosexuality a sin, but does not call for any laws to be made against it.


BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thanks, Brian, very much.

Up next, the trouble and unpopular war, who owns it? The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has no doubt.

NANCY PELOSI, HOUSE SPEAKER: The republicans in the senate have now taken ownership of the war in Iraq.

BLITZER: You are going to want to see my exclusive one-on-one interview with the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She has a lot to say about what's going on in the war and President Bush. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: American voters gave the Democrats control of Congress in large part to try to end the war in Iraq. That hasn't happened. Whose fault is that? My exclusive interview with the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Let's talk about the war in Iraq. When you became speaker, you said bringing the war to end is my highest priority as speaker. Now you've been speaker for nine months. The war, if anything, is not only continuing, but it's expanding. There's more troops now in Iraq than there were when you became the speaker. What are you going to do about that?

PELOSI: Well what we did when we took office, we took the majority here. We changed the debate on the war. We put a bill on the president's desk which said that we wanted the redeployment of troops out of Iraq to begin in a timely fashion and to end within a year. The president vetoed that bill. He got quite a response to that veto and the Republicans in the Senate then decided that he was never going to get a bill on his desk again. So we have a barrier. And it's important for the American people to know that while I can bring a bill to the floor in the House, it cannot be brought up in the Senate unless there is a 60 vote.

BLITZER: But you could in the House of Representatives use your power of the purse, the money, just to stop funding the war if you really wanted to.

PELOSI: I wish the speaker had all the power you just described. I certainly could do that. That doesn't bar the minority from bringing up a funding resolution. They have their parliamentary prerogatives, as well.

So what we have done is to send bills that limit the mission, to limit the time there, to redeploy the troops, and last week, I believe, was a turning point in the Congressional debate on Iraq. I think we changed it going in by putting a bill on the president's desk.

Since May until now, we haven't been able to put something on the president's desk.

BLITZER: Because of the Senate.

PELOSI: Because of the Senate, the 60 vote. But last week we were really optimistic that the Senate would at least support the readiness of our troops. The Webb resolution, the Webb amendment to the defense bill was a resolution that said the guidelines of the defense department, the same amount of time in the war, you have the same amount of time at home to regroup, to retrain, to recover, to be with your family. When they rejected that ...

BLITZER: It didn't have enough votes?

PELOSI: It had enough votes to pass, but it did not have enough votes to be heard, to be heard so that a majority, a bipartisan majority of the Senate could have sent this to the president's desk.

We have been trying to reach out as the American people want us to do in a bipartisan way to build a bipartisan consensus to redeploy the troops out of Iraq safely and soon.

BLITZER: You know your base is frustrated, really angry.

PELOSI: I'm frustrated myself.

BLITZER: The war continues and they say you should be doing more. And that's reflected in what former Senator John Edwards, the democratic presidential candidate, repeatedly says. He says this. He says, "Congress must stand up to President Bush and pass a funding bill with a time table for withdrawal. If the president vetoes that bill, Congress must send it back again and again, as many times as it takes for the president to finally get the message that he can't defy the American people." Why don't do you that?

PELOSI: I completely concur, but I just said to you, we did that. We sent it to the president. He vetoed it. Any further attempts to do that have been met by the 60-vote barrier in the United States Senate.

Now I'll be the last person to give you a civics lesson about what that means. But what it does mean is that the republicans in the Senate have now taken ownership of the war in Iraq. It's President Bush's war. And now it is the republicans in Congress' war. And that marks a big turning point for us because we had hoped to have bipartisanship in redeploying the troops out of Iraq, to do so in a timely fashion. Now we have a loss of life that continues, a loss of readiness to our military, which harms our ability to protect America wherever our interests are threatened. We have the loss of money.

BLITZER: So are you telling your angry base out there the Democratic Party that wants to see this war over with, wants to see the U.S. troops home that you as speaker, there is nothing you can do? You have to just throw your hands up and say ...

PELOSI: I didn't say that at all.

BLITZER: Given the legislative problems in the Senate and the president's stubborn refusal to back down, that there is nothing you could do?

PELOSI: How could you ever have gotten that impression when I have said, for those who pay attention, is that we will hold this administration accountable, time and time again for the conduct of this war in Iraq.

I don't have to discuss how we went in on the false premise. That's well known to the American people.

What we do have to do is show them every step of the way how the president is taking us farther down a path from which is going to be harder to redeploy out of Iraq.

BLITZER: But when you hold the president accountable, I just want you to explain what does that mean, besides just complaining and holding hearings? Specifically, is there anything else you can do?

PELOSI: Holding hearings and the oversight that we have on the corruption and contracting in Iraq, the hearings that we're holding and the harm to the readiness of our troops that the president is causing with his abstinence in this war in Iraq.

The retired generals tell us that if we want to talk about the stability in region and that's what we're trying better. How do we have a vision of stability in the region? Democrats are saying our vision for stability in the region begins with the redeployment of troops out of Iraq and the generals say you cannot have stability in the region until you redeploy the troops out of Iraq.

So what we are saying is now with what happened in the past two weeks, with General Petraeus' presentation and with what happened on the Webb resolution in the Senate, that republicans are committed to a ten-year war in Iraq with the highest level of troops presence there with permanent bases.

The democrats are proposing a redeployment out of Iraq, a greatly diminished mission there out of the civil war, protect our diplomats and protect our troops who are there, fight the al Qaeda and if we have to train the troops, if we have to continue to train the Iraqi security forces, it doesn't have to be in country. And it doesn't have to be all American. That can be done out of country.

So we are talking about a greatly diminished force there and a redeployment when safe and responsible within the next year. The president is talking about ten years. And then after that, a Korea- like presence in perpetuity. That's the choice.

BLITZER: And I just want to be precise. Impeachment, that notion which some of the base clearly would like, that's off the table.

PELOSI: I've always said that impeachment is off the table. This is President Bush's war. It's Vice President Cheney's war and now it's become the war of the republicans in Congress.

BLITZER: And tomorrow you are going to hear what the house speaker says about President Bush, the rest of my interview with the Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That will air tomorrow. Right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Jack Cafferty is asking this question, why is violent crime in the United States increasing for the second year in a row? Your email and Jack coming up next.


BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack Cafferty and the Cafferty File.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this last hour, actually it was the 4:00 hour was why has violent crime in the United States increasing for the second year in a row?

Clarence in Brodhead, Kentucky writes, "The main reason for the higher crime rate is drugs. Some people out there would kill their parents for the money to get a fix and it's happening every day. The second reason is people are losing their respect for a government that doesn't enforce its own laws. And third, what do you expect when you allow millions of illegal criminals into the country?"

Linda, "I'm a resident of Oakland. That's a town that's seen one of the sharpest increase in violent crimes. The crime rate appears out of control as the criminals continue to rule the streets. We need more cops, more laws to punish violent offenders. Oakland is a great city with beauty and diversity. The criminal element makes it an ugly place.

Drew in Atlanta, "I take a look at the poverty rates in those cities you mentioned. Seems to me if the crime rate's rising as the housing market is tanking and the tank of gas can cost almost as much as a house payment, it's no surprise. You are making comparisons to the tail end of the last recession in 1991."

Alex writes from Mt. Shasta, California, "Rise in violent crime probably has several causes. One of them is the increasing number of illegal immigrant gang members in our country. Sending them home and securing our borders would lower crime."

Larry writes from Queens, New York, "Crime getting worse has nothing to do with the age of the population. It's economics. As the feds continue to cut spending and as the debt saddled economy continues to tank, it's only going to get worse, especially in poor parts of big cities. Welcome back to the 1970s."

And Stephen in Florida writes, "It's the economy, stupid."

If you didn't see your email here, you can go to where we post more of them online along with video clips of the Cafferty File.


BLITZER: Jack, listen to this little clip of what Ahmadinejad just said in New York at the U.N. general assembly.

CAFFERTY: All right.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): The nuclear issue of Iran is now closed and has turned into an ordinary agency matter.

BLITZER: All right. He's basically saying it's over. Forget about it.

CAFFERTY: Well, I guess that's the end of that. We don't have to worry about it anymore, right?

BLITZER: He's suggesting that you know what? The United States is doing all the horrible things. He's just doing what any good world citizen would want to do.

CAFFERTY: Well of course. He's the regular little Eagle Scout, isn't he? How come he doesn't wear a tie when he addresses the U.N.? That bothered me last year when he was here.

BLITZER: We'll see you back here in an hour, Jack.


BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Tomorrow, by the way, the former Vice President Al Gore will be among our guests.

Let's go to LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, Kitty Pilgrim sitting in.