Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said little during a lengthy interview with Lally Weymouth of Newsweek and The Post to dispel the impression that he is a hard-liner who intends to take his country in a different direction. Excerpts:
Q: The Bush administration has actually called Iran part of the "axis of evil." . . . The U.S. would like to see some changes in Iran.
A: We would like to see some changes occur in America.
For example, the approach and the kind of language that the American government use in their relations with other countries.
What direction do you want to take your country in? Do you want your people to have more freedom, or do you want to move in another direction?
The elections in our country are free. We had a very high number of candidates. It was the people who decided. [Former president Mohammad] Khatami did lots of good things, he serviced the country and of course those services will continue [but] some new things will be done as well.
Do you feel you have been portrayed incorrectly in the Western media?
It is clear that some countries wish that our people would have taken a different course of action in our elections. . . . Immediately after the elections, I started hearing threats against me, all sorts of condemnations and accusations. I was asked whether I was one of the hostage-takers [in 1979].
Obviously no. Even the people who were responsible for that act say I was not there. If you want to understand this event, the right question to ask is not who did it but why did this occur. I think that the root causes are in the behavior of the American government since 1953 up to the day when our revolution became victorious.
How do you dispel the impression that is prevalent in the U.S. that Iran is making a nuclear weapon?
Our religion prohibits us from having nuclear arms. Our religious leader has prohibited it from the point of view of religious law. It's a closed road.
You are making a counteroffer to [Europe] where Iran will pursue uranium enrichment but assure the international community that it will not divert it for weapons use. If you have the nuclear know-how, isn't this a danger to the West?
Why would the fact that we have know-how constitute a danger for you? I insist we don't need nuclear arms, and our laws do not allow us to produce them. We are always acting in accordance with international law. Wouldn't it be more rational to worry about those who systematically violate international law?
The U.S. government believes Iran is stirring up violence in Iraq against U.S. and coalition forces. Can you comment on this?
The American government has all sorts of allegations but never shows any documents or proof. If there is insecurity in Iraq, the first ones to suffer from it are the neighboring countries like Iran. We consider there is a direct link between the lack of security in Iraq and the continuation of the occupation.
Do you want U.S. troops to pull out of Iraq?
The pretext for the continuation of occupation is lack of security. We would like security to come back to the area as soon as possible.
Many fear if U.S. troops withdraw, the result will be a civil war.
It can be done either by replacing those troops with U.N. troops, international troops or there can be a specific time frame for the withdrawal. I think the American government and the American Army should take upon itself many more responsibilities for the security in Iraq. The explosions and terrorist acts create a distinct feeling of insecurity among the people.
Iran put under house arrest two very prominent al Qaeda members. What is their status?
Al Qaeda is for sure an enemy of Iran. They killed 11 Iranian diplomats. We have always wished to uproot and destroy them. These are the most dangerous enemies for us. But who brought them to power in Afghanistan? Has the relationship between those groups and those who brought them to power stopped?
Who brought them to power?
Those who are militarily present in Afghanistan [the United States].
Are you planning to lessen Iran's support of Hezbollah and [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] and other terror groups?
We wish independence and progress for Lebanon. In Lebanon there are several groups and they have legal activities. They are represented in the government and parliament.
The government of Israel recently had an official contact with Pakistan. Would you think of having a member of your government engage in contacts [with Israel]?
No, we do not accept the legitimacy of that regime.