Iranian Leader Tells Scott Pelley His Country Does Not Need Nuclear Weapons
CBS News, TEHRAN, Sept. 23, 2007
Watch the full interview.
(CBS) The president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, knows how to infuriate the Western world and he did it again last week when he asked to visit ground zero. Ahmadinejad plans to be in New York this week for the U.N. General Assembly meeting. The man who questions the truth behind the Holocaust is expected to demand, once again, the elimination of Israel.
60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley spoke with Ahmadinejad on Thursday in the garden outside his office in Tehran. Pelley spoke to the president about America's angry reaction to his plan to visit the World Trade Center site. The president told 60 Minutes, in light of the objections, he wouldn't press for it.
"Sir, what were you thinking?" Pelley asked. "The World Trade Center site is the most sensitive place in the American heart, and you must have known that visiting there would be insulting to many, many Americans."
"Why should it be insulting," Ahmadinajad said.
"Well, sir, you're the head of the government of an Islamist state that the United States government says is a major exporter of terrorism around the world," Pelley replied.
"We obviously are very much against any terrorist action and any killing. And also we are very much against any plots to sow the seeds of discord among nations," Ahmadinejad said. "Usually you go to these sites to pay your respects. And also to perhaps to air your views about the root causes of such incidents."
Ahmadinejad told Pelley the U.S. and Iran could be friends, but 60 Minutes wanted to know about the growing evidence that Iranian weapons and bomb components are being used against U.S. forces in Iraq.
"It is an established fact now that Iranian bombs and Iranian know-how are killing Americans in Iraq. You have American blood on your hands. Why?" Pelley asked.
"Well, this is what the American officials are saying. Again, American officials wherever around the world that they encounter a problem which they fail to resolve, instead of accepting that, they prefer to accuse others," the president replied. "I'm very sorry that because of the wrong decisions taken by American officials, Iraqi people are being killed and also American soldiers. It's very regrettable."
"The American Army has captured Iranian missiles in Iraq. The critical elements of the explosively formed penetrator bombs that are killing so many people are coming from Iran. There's no doubt about that anymore. The denials are no longer credible, sir," Pelley pointed out.
"Very good. If I may. Are you an American politician? Am I to look at you as an American politician or a reporter? This is what the American officials are claiming," Ahmadinejad replied. "If they accuse us 1,000 times, the truth will not change."
"Are you saying that it is not the policy of this government to send weapons into Iraq? Sir, forgive me, you're smiling, but this is a very serious matter to America," Pelley said.
"Well, it's serious for us as well. I daresay it's serious for everyone," Ahmadinejad told Pelley. "It seems to me it's laughable for someone to turn a blind eye to the truth and accuse others. It doesn't help. And the reason that I'm smiling, again, it's because that the picture is so clear. But American officials refuse to see it."
Asked if he could very simply and directly say that Iran is not sending weapons to Iraq, Ahmadinejad said, "We don't need to do that. We are very much opposed to war and insecurity…"
"Is that a 'No,' sir?" Pelley asked.
"…by Iraq. It's very clear the situation. The insecurity in Iraq is detrimental to our interests," Ahmadinejad said.
President Ahmadinejad is 50, with a wife and three grown kids. He's the son of a blacksmith, said to be very religious and incorruptible. He was elected two years ago largely by rural and poor voters. Back in the 1980's, during Iraq's ruinous invasion of Iran, he was reportedly an elite Army intelligence officer in the war with Saddam Hussein.
"Mr. President, you must have rejoiced more than anyone when Saddam Hussein fell. You owe President Bush. This is one of the best things that's ever happened to your country," Pelley said.
"Once the dictator was toppled, many people were happy," Ahmadinejad agreed. "But the American government did not appropriately use this golden opportunity. They should have left the Iraqi people to go their own way and to determine their own fate."
But the issue that threatens war between Iran and the U.S. is Iran's determination to keep enriching uranium, even though the United Nations Security Council demands that it stop. Ahmadinejad claims Iran only wants nuclear energy but the Bush administration says he's pursuing a bomb. The International Atomic Energy Agency -- the IAEA -- is trying to resolve the dispute.
In the past, Ahmadinejad has said Iran has 3,000 centrifuges in a line producing highly-enriched uranium. Does Iran have more now?
"No. Our plan and program is very transparent. We are under the supervision of the Agency. Everything is on the table," Ahmadinejad said. "We have nothing to hide."
"It's been hidden for more than 15 years. You've been operating a secret nuclear program. It's nothing-if it's not secret," Pelley remarked.
"Who is saying that?" the president asked.
"Well, the IAEA. You've, in fact, agreed with the IAEA to confess what you've done in secret over the past years. It is not transparent, sir," Pelley pointed out.
"The Agency is supposed to supervise and ask questions and we respond," Ahmadinejad said. "And our activities are very peaceful."
"For the sake of clarity, because there is so much concern in the world about this next question, please give me the most direct answer you can. Is it your goal to build a nuclear bomb?" Pelley asked.
"What are you driving at?" the president replied.
"Simply that, sir. Is it the goal of your government, the goal of this nation to build a nuclear weapon?" Pelley asked.
"What do you think that the nuclear technology is only limited in a bomb? You can only build a bomb with that?" Ahmadinejad said.
"I appreciate the differences, sir," Pelley said. "But the question is limited to the bomb."
"Well, you have to appreciate we don't need a nuclear bomb. We don't need that. What needs do we have for a bomb?" the president replied.
"May I take that as a 'No,' sir?" Pelley asked.
"It is a firm 'No.' I’m going to be much firmer now, in political relations right now, the nuclear bomb is of no use; if it was useful it would have prevented the downfall of the Soviet Union; if it was useful it would resolved the problem the Americans have in Iraq," Ahmadinejad said. "The time of the bomb is passed."
"At the moment, our two countries may very well be walking down the road to war. How do you convince President Bush, how do you convince other nations in the West…," Pelley said.
"What two parties are walking towards war?" the president asked.
"Iran, the United States, Western countries," Pelley said.
"Well, it's wrong to think that Iran and the U.S. are walking towards war. Who says so? Why should we go to war?" Ahmadinejad asked. "There is no war in the offing. Again, this is psychological warfare if you have difference of opinion you can use logic to resolve your differences."
Asked what trait he admires in President Bush, Ahmadinejad paused.
"What do you admire about him? Is there anything, any trait?" Pelley asked.
"As an American citizen tell me what trait do you admire?" the president asked Pelley.
"Well Mr. Bush is without question a very religious man for example, as you are," Pelley replied.
"What religion, please tell me, tells you as a follower of that religion to occupy another country and kill its people, please tell me, does Christianity tell its followers to do that?" Ahmadinejad asked.
"I take it you can’t think of anything you like about President Bush," Pelley remarked.
"Well, I'm not familiar with the gentleman’s private life. Maybe in his private life he is very kind or determined man," the president said.
"I asked President Bush what he would say to you if he were sitting in this chair. And he told me-quote-speaking to you, that you’ve made terrible choices for your people. You’ve isolated your nation you’ve taken a nation of proud and honorable people and made your country the pariah of the world. These are President Bush’s words to you," Pelley said. "What’s your reply?"
"Well, President Bush is free to think as the pleases and to say what he pleases," Ahmadinejad said. "I don’t think that President Bush has said these things. Rather I prefer to think that this is your impression of what the president said."
"I’m quoting the president directly, for the record," Pelley remarked.
"This is a direct quote, so well, this tells me that there is a great divide between us," Ahmadinejad said.
"President Bush has pledged that you will not be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon and will use military force if necessary," Pelley said.
"I think Mr. Bush, if he wants his party to win the next election, there are cheaper ways to go about this. I can very well give him a few ideas so that the people vote for him. He should respect the American people. They should not bug the telephone conversations of their citizens," the president said. "They should not kill the sons and daughters of the American nation. They should not squander the taxpayers' money and give them to weapons companies. And also help the people, the victims of Katrina. People will vote for them if they do these things. What I'm saying, I am being very sincere here. I'm a Muslim. I cannot tell a lie."
"But when I ask you a question as direct as 'Will you pledge not to test a nuclear weapon?' you act, you dance all around the question. You never say 'Yes.' You never say 'No,'" Pelley points out.
"Well, thank you for that. You are like a CIA investigator. And you are…," Ahmadinejad replied.
"I am just a reporter. I am a simple average American reporter," Pelley said.
"This is not Guantanamo Bay. This is not a Baghdad prison. Please, this is not a secret prison in Europe. This is not Abu Ghraib," Ahmadinejad said. "This is Iran. I'm the president of this country!"