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Interview With Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

A. Do you know the number of prisoners in the United States?

Q. My question is whether you are willing to discuss the situation in Iran?

A. I understand your question and I want to answer it. Do you know the number of prisoners here in the United States? I will give you an answer if you please bear with me. You don't expect me to give you the answer you are expecting. You have 3.6 million prisoners in the United States. Why are they in your prisons? Some of them are electrocuted. Why? Exactly why? There is a law here that deals with such matters. Could we say it is a bad thing? Could we address exactly why 3.6 million people are in prison? If nobody has violated the law, there is no reason for them to go to prison. Once the law is violated, then they could end up in prison. The criminal procedural law in Iran is a very strong one. Each person can go for review before the final verdict is issued. This is very unique by itself. So when a person goes before a court there are five stages -- four of which include a review of the case. So within our judiciary system the utmost effort is made to guarantee that the rights of those that appear before the court are upheld. This does not mean that an officer somewhere could not violate the law. Just like the police in New York or elsewhere in the United States who might end up beating up people. That officer is carrying out an offense. But nobody can accuse the United States government of neglect because of that. Our judiciary system will deal with these cases.

The issues that we will discuss at the meeting in Geneva are clear ones: the issue of world security; disarmament; economic problems; and issues confronting international relations. We welcome bringing up human-rights issues, including prisoners who are incarcerated in unknown locations -- in Europe for example, in Guantanamo, including the crimes committed in Afghanistan and in Iraq as well as in Palestine. We will be glad to discuss them all. As well as the violation of the rights of people who are seeking more information in Europe and how it is restricted there. People's access to such information is often so restricted in Europe. We are not even allowed to raise questions about the Holocaust, and you even have scientists and academics imprisoned when they do.

Q. In these talks with the West, you said you will not discuss your nuclear program. Do you stick to that or are you willing to have a give and take with the West? Because otherwise there won't be any talks with the West if you are only going to take and not give, Mr. President, which you have done brilliantly so far.

A. Thank you very much for your optimistic remarks. I believe that if we violate international law and regulations no one will benefit from it. Everyone must follow international rules. The nuclear issue belongs to the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA]. The IAEA has a clear-cut path on how to deal with these issues. We have certain commitments and obligations as well as rights within that framework. We will carry out our obligations and also enjoy our rights.

Q. But you have not carried out your obligations. The UN has sanctioned you and the UN supersedes your rights under the IAEA. Are you going to suspend your enrichment program? Are you going to cooperate with the IAEA's additional protocol, which you signed initially? [Iran later dropped out.]

A. Based on official and repeated reports issued by the Agency, Iran has carried out its nuclear activities within the legal framework designed by the Agency. We have also voluntarily accepted the new obligations over and beyond the legal framework. But we have not fully taken advantage of our rights. Articles Two and Four of the statute of the IAEA argue that those who possess nuclear technology must assist other countries in the development of their peaceful nuclear technologies. But neither the Agency nor its member states have given Iran any assistance in that regard, whereas we have carried out our obligations.

Q. The IAEA report of last August said that the Agency "does not consider that Iran has adequately addressed the substance of the issues... The Agency has therefore requested Iran to provide more substantive responses and to provide the Agency with -- access to persons, information and locations." Mohammed ElBaradei -- who has been considered to be your strongest advocate in Washington -- has questions about whether or not you are conforming to the IAEA or whether or not you are actually working on a nuclear weapons program.

A. This is not exactly the right place to get into the technicalities of the issues. But the September report has two clear parts. One portion of the report details the questions related to the Agency itself. Two years ago we arrived at an agreement with the Agency to provide answers to six remaining questions raised by the Agency within that first category. Those questions are clear. We gave answers to all of them. The Agency validated the responses it received from us. Interestingly at the end of this two year time frame, the United States administration came forward with certain claims and allegations against us, demanding the Agency to handle those as well. This was in clear violation of the statutes of the Agency and of the agreements between the Agency and Iran. Under political pressure by the U.S. administration, the Agency accepted the list of allegations given to it by the United States and posted it on the agenda all of a sudden. From the start, we disagreed with that approach because it was based on very clear legal categories and rules that were predefined. I think what you were reading from relates to that second set of developments that transpired. As far as we are concerned, they lack any legal credibility. Our commitments to the Agency have clearly been itemized and written. If you pay attention, in the same text, there is no mention of our commitments. These are claims made by the United States against us. Legally, we are not bound to provide answers to them. If we agree to answer these questions, we will never be able to enjoy our full rights and we will never be able to live in peace and security. We have the largest level of cooperation with the Agency.

Q. Mr. President, I wanted to turn to the question of President Obama. He has reportedly written two letters to the Supreme Leader in recent months. I wonder if you could tell us the substance of those letters and also what you make of President Obama. How do you compare him to President Bush? Is he a weak leader, a strong leader? Is this someone you could do business with?

A. You are asking me to give you information about letters that you know about?

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