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A CONVERSATION WITH MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD

Lally Weymouth
Sunday, September 24, 2006

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Do you think it would be in Iran's best interest to move toward a normal relationship with the United States?

We are interested in having talks with everyone. We believe that talks are much better than threats and confrontation. We are currently holding talks with many countries. I have said before that the United States is no exception, but the U.S. administration -- that is, a section of the U.S. administration -- does not create the right circumstances. It destroys chances for constructive talks.

Because a part of the administration wants to overthrow your regime?

It is the behavior I am talking about; the attitude is inappropriate. They believe that they own the entire world so they speak from that position, looking down at us -- even when they meet us. If they change their behavior, it is possible to talk about everything. Some politicians in the United States think that the nuclear issue is a way to put pressure on Iran, but they are wrong. One that has actually produced and used nuclear bombs cannot claim that they now want to stop proliferation.

Why don't you let the IAEA inspectors back in, as the U.N. Security Council demanded last summer?

The Security Council's involvement is, in fact, illegal. We are working under the framework of the IAEA, and the cameras are on our sites. Could you please show me at least one report by the IAEA on the United States' nuclear facilities?

Are you really serious when you say that Israel should be wiped off the face of the Earth?

We need to look at the scene in the Middle East -- 60 years of war, 60 years of displacement, 60 years of conflict, not even a day of peace. Look at the war in Lebanon, the war in Gaza -- what are the reasons for these conditions? We need to address and resolve the root problem.

Your suggestion is to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth?

Our suggestion is very clear: . . . Let the Palestinian people decide their fate in a free and fair referendum, and the result, whatever it is, should be accepted. . . . The people with no roots there are now ruling the land.

You've been quoted as saying that Israel should be wiped off the face of the Earth. Is that your belief?

What I have said has made my position clear. If we look at a map of the Middle East from 70 years ago . . .

So, the answer is yes, you do believe that it should be wiped off the face of the Earth?

Are you asking me yes or no? Is this a test? Do you respect the right to self-determination for the Palestinian nation? Yes or no? Is Palestine, as a nation, considered a nation with the right to live under humane conditions or not? Let's allow those rights to be enforced for these 5 million displaced people.

If the Palestinian people decided that they wanted a two-state solution, would you support that decision?

The politicians in the United States should allow the Palestinians to vote, and then we'll all respect the results. They won't even accept a small Palestinian state. That's why we think the root cause of the crisis must be addressed. Jews, like other individuals, will have to be respected. It's not necessary to occupy the land of others, to displace them, to imprison their young people and to destroy their homes and agricultural fields and to attack neighboring countries.

What is your analysis of Hezbollah in Lebanon today? What has been the impact of the war?

Everybody has said that the attacks of the Israeli government against Lebanon were pre-planned. The question is: The planes that leveled Lebanon, the laser bombs, where did they come from? Who provided the Zionists with the armaments? Who prevented a cease-fire in the beginning?

I think a section within the U.S. administration must take a new look at the Middle East. They should not assume that they can fix the problems of the Middle East through war.

In your meeting with the Iraqi prime minister last week, did any ideas emerge as to how to stabilize the situation in Iraq?

Saddam was a detested individual, no doubt, and although he was supported by a group of American politicians during the eight-year war with Iran, we nonetheless were happy when he left. This paved the way for the American government to improve their relations with the people in the region, but they lost the opportunity -- they decided to occupy Iraq in search of oil and their own interests. . . . The Iraqi nation has deep roots -- an ancient, civilized culture -- it cannot accept to remain under occupation. It cannot accept that its authorities are told on a daily basis what to do by American authorities. In the past years, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed. Even worse than what it was under Saddam.

Everybody in Iraq is unhappy. Iraq has a government now that has risen as a result of the vote of the people and it has a constitution and a parliament. Let them run and administer the country. Our policy is to support the government of Iraq, to create security for the country.

It seems as if a Shiite majority has emerged with the bulk of power in Iraq. Is this good from Iran's point of view?

We are friends with the entire nation of Iraq. Our nation is like an extended family of the Iraqi nation. . . . We are not like American politicians who divide people and fracture.

[Prime Minister Nouri al-]Maliki has said that the most important job for him is to control the militias, many of which have close contact with Iran and some of which receive money from Iran. Will you help Prime Minister Maliki control the militias?

This is your mistake again. Mr. Maliki is a friend of ours. Our nations are very close. The country that is hurt most by the insecurity in Iraq is our country.

Everyone in the region says Iran is now the most powerful country -- that the result of the U.S. invasion is that Iran is more powerful than it has ever been.

Do you think there is a problem with Iran being a powerful country? Are you implying that the Americans went there to strengthen Iran?

No, but don't you think that is the end result?

Iran is a powerful country. A powerful Iran will benefit the region because Iran is a country with a deep culture and has always been a peaceful country. If the Americans had not imposed the shah, Iran could have been a far more powerful country.

Are you going to continue backing terror groups -- Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad?

Are you here on a mission or are you a journalist? A journalist does not judge. You say that Hamas is a terror group. Hamas is working in its own territory, in its own country. Why do you call them terrorists? If someone occupied the United States and the American people rose to defend their home, would you call the American people terrorists?

I would say they were terrorists if they started killing civilians.

The Palestinian people have the right to live. Gaza is being bombarded. Homes are being destroyed. Why? Because some politicians in the United States insist on supporting the Zionists at the cost of destroying the Palestinians and buying the hatred of all the nations in the region.

This will work against the American government because anti-American sentiment and hatred is increasing by the day. One day it could turn into a storm.

You've made statements about the Holocaust, saying maybe it was exaggerated. Is that your opinion?

It's not the numbers that are important here. It's a very fundamental question: When we allow all researchers to do research freely, why don't researchers have the right to research this history as well? Let's remember that 60 million people were killed as a result of World War II. So let's put everything in context and let's research it further. . . . We know this was a historical event that has happened. But why is it that people who question it, even in the smallest sense, are persecuted and attacked?

Are you willing to take any steps to suspend uranium enrichment?

We think that the American politicians should change their attitudes. If they think that by threatening Iran they'll have results, they are wrong. I'll ask you: Who cut ties with Iran? It was the U.S. government. Who imposed the war with Saddam on us? So who is the one who has to give the positive signal, us or the U.S. government?

What do you want the United States to do for you and what are you willing to do in turn for the U.S.?

I sent a very detailed and caring letter [to President Bush]; I truly mean it when I say that I hope Mr. Bush will change his behavior and attitude. It doesn't make us happy that sentiments against him rise on a daily basis around the world. This can be reversed. It's the attitude and the approach of some American politicians that ruins things. They want to return Iran to what it was before the revolution, under the shah, when it was really a puppet for the United States. That's history. It will never come back. The Iranian nation is a free and independent nation with an elected government, a parliament and a constitution.

How can you come to this country and tell our president to change his behavior?

We're just defending our honor.

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