TIME: Thank you very much, Mr. President for meeting with us. Before we start with the major issues, I wanted to ask you a personal question. I spent Election Day in your old neighborhood of Nasiabad and I was struck, as I always am, by the numbers of widows and orphans of the Iran - Iraq War. Most Americans don't understand the impact of that war, a million casualties on your country. I wanted to ask you about your own experiences during that war. Did you see combat? Did friends of yours die? What impact did have on your worldview, on the way that you have conducted yourself since?
Ahmadinejad: I thank you for your question. If I may, I would like to improve on some of the questions you have raised. I did not live in Nasiabad; it was not my old neighborhood. Nasiabad is a locality in the south of Tehran and I lived in the eastern side of Tehran. A second point is with respect to the number of people who were martyred on Iranian side as a result of the war. The total number of people who lost their lives or were martyred as a result of the war that Saddam Hussein launched against our nation were about 160,000 and there are 70 million people in Iran, it is a very big nation. We have the exact figures and records of the number of women who have lost their spouses in the war, but nonetheless every life that was lost and every life matters. From our viewpoint, if one person is killed innocently it is the equivalent of the loss of life of all humanity. Crime against the individual is the equivalent of crime against humanity. The Iranian nation has been witness to numerous events throughout history, various ones. In other words, the Iranian nation has lived with different events unfolding at different time junctures. But, I cannot claim that the imposed war by Saddam Hussein on Iran has left a specific impact on the psyche of the Iranian nation necessarily. Nonetheless it was endorsement of the historical witnessing by our nation of the various events that have befell it, and as a result throughout history, the Iranian nation has learned very well that it must stand on its own feet and the imposed war, if anything, proved that their perception is quite correct. That is precisely why Iranian nation seeks its own scientific development, its own economic development, its own innovations, and its own initiates.
What about your own personal experience during the war, and the impact on you? Were you involved in combat? I know this has had a tremendous impact on your generation.
I was one among the rest of the nation; there was no difference in that respect. Our nation all felt the same way about the war. Everybody disliked the war. I've always disliked wars, throughout history, and the same is true now.
Good morning, Mr. President. Even as we speak right now, President Obama in Pittsburgh will be giving a speech accusing Iran of building a secret nuclear plant previously undisclosed. A) Why did you not reveal the existence of this nuclear facility before? and 2) Will you allow immediate international inspectors to go to the facility?
Mr. Obama is about to say this?
This morning at 8:30.
So, is all the information that Mr. Obama receives of the same nature?
I'm sorry, the information that he received?
Is it of this kind of nature.
That's my understanding. According to the press reports this morning, its President Obama, Mr. Sarkozy, and Mr. Brown who are collectively making this announcement.
If I were Mr. Obama's adviser, I would definitely ask him to refrain from making this statement because its is definitively of mistake. We have no secrecy and we work within the framework of the IAEA and based on specific regulations and predetermined timeframes, we disclose information about our operations and facilities to the IAEA. We do that on our own initiative, not that anyone forces us to. Now of course, I'm not the person who should be giving this advice to Mr. Obama because principally, Mr. Obama's mistakes work in our favor. But still, we do not want to see a president of a country like the United States of America to make blunders of the sort, to make mistakes of the sort. If documents of such nature are issued then it simply adds to the list of issues to which the United States owes the Iranian nation an apology over. Rest assured that this will be the case. We do everything transparently.
So, I'm sure that there will need to be an official response, but your denying the existence of the facility which he is raising this morning in his speech.
This does not mean with our facilities that anything was done secretly. This does not mean we must inform Mr. Obama's administration of every facility that we have. I think we must wait to see what Mr. Obama's remarks are, and then express our views.
One more general question on the question of nuclear programs: I was at the Quds Day observance in 2001, our calendar, when Hashemi Rafsanjani said that there was a need for an Islamic bomb to counter the Israeli nuclear arsenal. Do you agree with that?
I had never heard this statement.
You didn't? It's very famous. I was there.
Ahmadinejad: Well, I cannot speak for what you may or may not have heard, but it may have been misinterpreted for you.
It's widely reported.
None of the Iranians here around the table recall such a statement. It's the first time we hear from it and maybe from now on we can expect such things. Somebody saying that it did happen, but we don't recall hearing it.
Could you address the issue itself? The sense that you need a deterrent capability in order to confront the nuclear arsenal that the Israelis have.
We believe that the Zionist regime is too little to be able to pose a threat to Iran. We feel that the nuclear weapons have no application whatsoever in this time and age. The Zionist regime must as well give its attention to resolving the situation in Gaza and then leave other things for later on. If the nuclear arsenal could have been of any use, it would have helped the situation in Gaza. In my opinion, in our opinion, the atomic bomb is a concept that belongs to the previous century. It really has no applicability today. But, my understanding of your question is as though you are advising us to build something.
Just asking. I have one more question and then we will turn it open to the others. It's about Hashemi Rafsanjani. For 26 years, he gave Quds Day address at Friday prayers, but not this year and during the campaign I watched you, maybe faulty translation again, accuse Rafsanjani of corruption and that he was part of a corrupt establishment. Is that one of the reasons why Rafsanjani didn't give the speech this year, and also given those accusations, what are you going to do about that in your second term? About his personal corruption?
These are after all internal issues for Iran and not so important. I did not speak in the election process about him. I spoke about some of his children. Now whether an individual appears or does not appear at a Friday prayer sermon is not considered a very important act, it actually happens on a normal basis. I heard that it was his own personal decision not to go.
Mr. President, during the summer you blamed foreign elements, foreign reporters, foreign governments, for the protests that followed the election. The foreign press is gone from Iran, but the protests continue so I would like to know what you think is behind them and why heroes of the Islamic revolution like Mr. Rafsanjani and Mr. Musabi should be involved in the opposition. What rights exactly does the opposition have under your constitution?
What we have in Iran are freedoms and competition. Is there anything from with Mr. Rafsanjani and Mr. Musabi competing with me or even being opposed to my views? This not regarded as a problem or an issue in our country. I meant ultimately there are elections to allow decide what they want. Whatever people decide is done, and that was precisely what happened. It's only natural to have differences of opinion. If an individual has rendered service to a country, that does not mean that people should always embrace the person. People make their own decisions. With regard to the agitations and provocations created by some western governments, that is correct, they too tried to actually portray the chaos as legal and as a positive trend. They gave it a positive spin. Specifically British officials from the government did these acts. They were involved. We are not saying that they designed and planned what transpired in the elections in Iran, but what I mean is that they were involved. Interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries is illegal, and not only that; they tried to encourage some of the clashes that were happening. Actually it's also true that some members of Mr. Obama's administration got involved as well. The fact that there are protests in a country does not mean that it's a negative thing. Right now there are protests in the United States going on against the economic policies or the decisions made by the group G-20. There are protests and there is nothing wrong with that.
Mr. President, may I ask you about the economy in Iran? During your previous administration, you pursued polices that benefited the poor some would say at the expense of the middle class and that may have contributed to the destabilization of the country, and yet despite that, the economy has been in some difficulty: high unemployment and high inflation. What specifically will you do in this administration to help the economy of Iran?
Well, the economic crisis is worldwide of course and nonetheless we are among the countries that have been least effected by this crisis. In the past four years we have had a high rate of economic growth and even if there was inflation, at the end of the day the trend demonstrated that the purchasing power of people from different groups of society was actually stronger and the national per capita income actually went up. Not to forget that in the past four years, Iran was one of the more stable countries in the world both politically and economically. Unlike some countries like the United States itself and some European countries, unemployment rates in Iran are actually decreasing. Having said that, the crisis is global, but we don't have any real serious problems with the economy, and the government's economic policies are policies that we plan to pursue in a very serious manner. Last year our stock market was one of the most successful, and in other sectors as well, if you take a look in investments, oil and energy sector, as well as the service sector, we were quite successful. Economic issues have never contributed to instability in Iran and never will. The minister of economy of the ninth government, which is the previous four years, was actually selected for the 10th government, the current government as well, and he received a very high vote of confidence by the parliament. There was in fact no vote against him even though the government itself, my administration, has some serious opponents with respect to other issues. The foundations of Iran's economy are in fact very solid. Not to forget that precisely for that matter the few sanctions by the United States and other European countries has not impacted the economy nor our economic growth or development of investments and welfare investments.
Mr. President, if I may return to a previous question, who in the Obama administration do allege has been supporting the opposition and fermenting the opposition?
The Secretary of State got involved directly in the chaos that was going on in Iran, in Tehran, as well as the Secretary of Defense, and then finally Mr. Obama actually took a position, but then he corrected it himself.
Is this something that you will hold against the government in future discussions?
These positions were really not that important to us. We think what they did was wrong, to intervene in the domestic affairs of another country. While they speak of democracy, they chose to side with a minority in our country whereas democracy means the rule of majority. Those who actually seek to uphold democracy should at all times uphold the rule of the majority although the majority of Iran doesn't really need specifically Mr. Obama's support nor the support of any other government for that matter. It is not an important topic to bring up in talks. We are just saying that it is something that we took note of by an administration that has promised to bring fundamental change. Mr. Bush was interested in intervening in the affairs of all countries and he created a lot of crisis around the world, which indignified the US government all together. Now Mr. Obama is seeking to restructure the American image all across the world. Well, he must refrain from making the same mistakes. This is simply a friendly advice that will be in Mr. Obama's favor. Otherwise, if you leave it to nations themselves, they understand what is going on. They can analyze the situation and compare things with one another and finally make up their own minds, but at the end of the day such statements really do not help restore America's image. I mean I don't know, maybe the US government sees itself as our competitor and rival, perhaps we should welcome these statements, but frankly at the end of the day, we want to have a friendly world. We think that these policies have already not succeeded and cannot help create friendships in the world.
Mr. President, can I ask what you expect from the upcoming talks? What specific areas are there where the countries can collaborate and cooperate for example, in Afghanistan? What specifically are you expecting from these talks?
There are many areas where we can cooperate. We think we must base the principle on the need to have relations and cooperation with other nations. Cooperation and collaboration among nations and countries can help in the process of development of promoting welfare as well as bringing peace and stability. The best world is one in which all countries cooperate with one another to kind of meet each other's needs and be partners in the process. Especially these days when the world is witness to so many problems, severe political problems, differences, clashes of sorts, serious economic problems, as well as serious security problems. We believe that the situation in Afghanistan can also be resolved through cooperation. In fact, and issue can be resolved through cooperation provided it is a form of collaboration based on honesty, sincerity, and on the observance of the principle of justice among nations. We have said that for our reactor in Tehran for example, we do require fuel in which to the level of 20 percent. This can be a good start for a cooperation area. We even went farther to suggest that our nuclear experts can work together. I mean these are very good, solid proposals to talk.
Can you tell us a bit more specifically about what Iran can do.
Well to start with, we believe from our perspective that the policies pursued in Afghanistan by the United States have been wrong. Often collected through a series of misinformations about the culture, the way of life, and the belief system of the people of Afghanistan. Afghanistan's problems do not have a military solution, but rather it needs a humanitarian solution and we know ways around to do that because we live in one area and we have the cultural and historical ties. We know each other, understand each other, each other's cultures and ways of life and traditions. In the past 100 years, no foreign military force has been able to leave Afghanistan victoriously. If the US decision makers were fully aware of the extent of this history they would have revised their policies.
Sir, if I remember correctly, Iran was supportive of the United States' initial reaction in Afghanistan. In fact, you almost went to war with the Taliban government in 1998 if I remember correctly, and you granted us over flight privileges and it was a period if real cooperations between the United States and Iran until the Bush administration changed its mind. How do we get back on course? What specific steps have to be made in order to improve relations between our countries? What steps do we have to make and just to reiterate my editors question, would you be willing to allow complete inspections by the IAEA including this new facility, this third nuclear enrichment facility?
I'm sorry, but frankly I don't really see the connections between issues pertaining to IAEA and issues regarding Afghanistan. As you said and said correctly, in the beginning we did assist NATO troops and the troops that went into Afghanistan. At the time what was said and the measures takes were different than what is said and done now. At the time, it was supposed to be one of the intentions to contend terrorism not for a group of people to come and basically rule over the Afghan nation. The deal was come and go, not come and stay.
I think we still want to go.
We think the sooner that this happens it will benefit everyone. We think that at the end of the day we have to assist the Afghan people resolve their own problems and issues. So, the work and assistance we can give over Afghanistan is just say that these policies are wrong, that's a big help, and then help decide on the right course of action. You all know quite well that the situation in Afghanistan right now is far worse than it was eight years ago. So increasing the number of troops does not help resolve the situation there. I think that just giving this form of advice is very valuable assistance. But we certainly hope that there are ears ready to listen. We haven't found that yet. We hope that you will be able voice out these concerns so powerfully that finally they will be heard.
One last question. You just began your second term. According to the constitution, that's all you're ever allowed. Could you ever foresee changing the constitution to enable you to serve a third term?
No, our constitution is a very good and vast constitution. We think that if anyone wants to get any work done, two tenures in office is sufficient. So, the opportunities have to move. I think that this principle laid out in the constitution is a very wise one, so I will definitely hold up the principles of the constitution and the continuity of those principles. There are individuals in Iran who are very capable and very many of them. There are so many individuals that can come and get hard work done and work even better, so we are not concerned at all about the future.
You're still a young man, what do you plan to do with the rest of your life after office?
I'm an academic. I teach at the university and that's where I will go back to. I don't see any problems there.
Mr. President, if I could just ask again the question I asked earlier. Again, President Obama as well as Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Brown will be asking immediate inspections of this new, previously undisclosed nuclear facility. How do you respond to that? Will you allow the inspections?
We don't have any problems in terms of cooperating with the IAEA based on the supervisory prerogatives of the IAEA. We are the ones that have always informed the agency of our activities within the framework defined by the rules and regulations that are there. We don't see any problems coming up, but why don't we let Mr. Obama announce what his position is and then we'll talk more. Again, if I was his advisor I would definitely tell him not to mention it or take a position.
We feel that the outlook on global issues that has been prevalent in the last 60 years has been the cause of the many problems that confront us in the world today. This is precisely what needs change. Any person who sincerely and honestly seeks to create a better world should make every effort to bring about the change in this outlook. To help realize collective peace, viable peace, we need collective cooperation and efforts. In this midst the media has an important role to play. Some western country states have in the past few decades not taken a very favorable position vis-a-vis our region and specifically with regards to Iran, and they have adopted stances that at times would've been against Iran's national interest. These have marked bitter historical memories in the nation psyche of Iran as well as the memories of many in our region. To bring about a change of these memories, it is necessary to rethink our attitudes and approaches to our part of the world and the part of some politicians in the United States as well as some European politicians. Our country remembers fully the memories of the coup in 1953. Those who encouraged it, those who planned and designed it, and those who implemented it. If we are looking for a better world, we have to insure that these memories are not recreated and not take steps that will only add to those bitter memories of the best. We certainly hope this new shift will occur. We'd like to see a world filled with friendship and paternity, but at the end of the day everyone is free to make their own decisions, but baring the consequences. I wish you every success.