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Larry King Interviews Iranian President Ahmadinejad

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    American talkshow host Larry King interviews Iranian President Ahmadinejad

    By Haaretz Service

    Full transcript of the Larry King interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad courtesy of CNN:

    LARRY KING, HOST: Mr. President, thank you for coming. Do you like coming to New York?

    MAHAMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRESIDENT, IRAN (through translator): In the name of God the compassionate, the merciful, well, this is the headquarters of the United Nations, and it is essential that we come here to meet with the heads of state and to promote the cooperation that is required for the management of world affairs today.

    Of course, I am also extremely interested to speak with the American people.

    KING: But there has been such hostility between the two countries, or at least the leaders of the two countries, do you think you can make steps forward in that regard?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Well, of course, the hostility has not been from our end. Up to this day, we have always been interested in having friendly relations. The hostility has been one-sided on the part of American politicians. And our nation has always defended itself against that hostility.

    But it's clear that nations do not have any problems with one another and we don't have any issues with the American people. But when the American government uses the language of force, we have no choice but to defend against it.

    We've done a lot, if you will recall, I sent a letter to Mr. Bush. The letter can be the start of a fresh endeavor and relation. We assisted in Iraq to establish safety and security as well as a new government.

    And I also ask that we talk with one another in the United Nations.

    KING: The president has not responded to your letter, has he?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I think that Mr. Bush has lost a lot of good opportunities, including these recent ones and initiatives by me.

    KING: But he is leaving office. You will be dealing with a new president. By the way, do you have a preference among the American candidates?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): No. We do not a preference of any sort because we believe that these are issues relating to the domestic affairs of the United States, and decisions pertaining to that must be made by the American people.

    And it's not important to us either. What matters essentially is that the president that is chosen by the American people should adopt a path and a policy approach and for us to observe that policy approach.

    This is the campaign period. Anyone can say anything. So we disregard that. What matters is that once someone is in office, we have to watch and see if that person will make--bring about some changes in policy or continue the same old path.

    I think that's more important than who is actually voted in office.

    KING: Would you like to meet with Senator McCain or Senator Obama?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I have said that--in fact, on this very trip currently in New York, that I am ready to speak with presidential candidates before the press, with the presence of the members of the press and the media, and discuss world issues and debate them together.

    I believe that we have really whatever we could to--in this respect.

    KING: Why do you think they don't want to talk to you? Why do you think Bush, McCain, Obama, why don't they want to talk to you?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): You should ask that from them, don't ask me.

    KING: Well, you are regarded...

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): We are for talks and dialogue.

    KING: But you have been regarded as a hostile state. And there are many things that Americans worry about with regard to Iran. You would agree that you are, for want of a better word, a controversial figure. Are you not?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Our country of Iran has a historical presence that extends to 7,000 years. And never has the Iranian nation taken a misstep against another nation.

    Throughout history it has demonstrated that it is a nation that is for peace and friendly with others. The war that occurred in the past century--the only war that confronted us in a major scale was Saddam Hussein's war against us.

    That was, if you'll recall, supported by the U.S. government and a number of European governments against us, actually. And what we did was defend ourselves, innocently.

    Of course, I will always defend the rights of my nation, the independence of my nation, with the rights--the legal rights of my nation. And this is the responsibility of every president.

    But this defense does not mean that we must infringe on the rights of other nations, not at all. You are aware that in the course of the US attack on Iraq, we were asked in fact to enter into the coalition or the war to some extent--not the coalition, but the war, this to make up for the war that Saddam launched against us that went on for eight years.

    So basically, getting to retaliate and revenge the war, in order words. So we refrained, we refused.

    KING: But aren't you glad that the United States helped the world get rid of Saddam Hussein?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): How do you interpret the sort of different policy approaches that the US government adopts? And at times they contradict one another. Now for eight years Saddam was supported against us.

    He bombarded Iranian cities and towns. He used chemical weapons against us. And in the meantime, the American government was giving support to Saddam. And then the US government went and overthrew Saddam.

    Well, perhaps in the first instance we might have been happy. But when we realised that the US government is more interested in staying in Iraq, and to dominate, through its presence in Iraq, the region, we--I ask you, would you have been happy if you were in our shoes watching this?

    KING: Mr. President, you were once a mayor. And we have a former mayor, now governor, Mrs. Palin, running for vice president. What do you think of her? Would you like to meet her?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I said that we've done whatever we need to with respect to this discussion. We've sent a letter to Mr. Bush and we also invited people here for a talk at the United Nations headquarters. And regionally in Afghanistan we assisted in bringing about security and safety. So we think it's now high time for the American officials to take the next steps.

    KING: But you would meet with her? If she said, I would meet with you, you would meet with her?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I will await and see what evolves, happens. As for--we are interested (ph) in talking to one another we believe that talks and dialogue, things might be resolved much easier. Of course the dialogue that has been set by an environment based on respect and justice.

    Now are you sure that she's going to become the president?

    KING: No, no, no. I'm saying just that she's running, she's going to be, maybe, vice president.

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): She wants to become the vice president.

    KING: Yes, I was just--you were both mayors, right? You have something in common.

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I wish that we would have talked together when we were both mayors.

    (LAUGHTER)

    KING: OK. One of the big fears the United States has, the world has about Iran, is nuclear weapons. Can you tell us what you're doing with regard to them? Are you building them? What is the status of your country and nuclear weapons?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): You've raised, in fact, three issues. The first is that you say that the world is afraid of Iran and concerned about it. I ask you, which part of the world are we speaking of?

    Is it the case that the US government is the equivalent of the entire world and makes the case for that world? Is it the case that the US government has few of its allies to be considered as the whole world? No.

    KING: All right. The Western...

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Not really. Let me tell you, well, you see, if you're talking about the Western states, I have to say, their concerns about us are not new. They've always been concerned. They were the ones who inspired Saddam to attack Iran and get us involved in an eight-year war. The terrorist groups that killed our president, prime minister, our officials, are now freely asked to live in the Western countries.

    But let me tell you, 118 member states of the NAM, the Non-Aligned Movement, have actually supported our peaceful pursuit. Thirty-seven member states of the Organisation of Islamic States have also given their support to us in this regard. And there are many other organisations, multilateral organisations that have supported our endeavor and efforts so it's not the world, exactly, that's concerned about us.

    And that's really the first point I have to clarify. The second point is in regards to the question of the bomb, we believe as a matter of religious teaching that we must be against any form of weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons. The production and the usage of nuclear weapons is one of the most abhorrent acts to our eyes.

    In addition, we also believe that the atomic bomb has lost its use in political affairs in fact. The time for a nuclear bomb has ended. Whoever invests in it (unclear) is going the wrong way.

    Was a nuclear bomb able to keep the Soviet Union intact and prevent its downfall? Was it able to bring victory for the United States either for Afghanistan or Iraq? Can it be used to that end? Can the nuclear bomb save the Zionist regime?

    The time for bombs of that nature has ended. It is time for culture and reason to prevail.

    There is also a third debate in the nuclear issue. We?re all aware that in fact the nuclear issue regarding Iran is a highly politicised one. It is, in fact, purely politicised. It's not a legal battle at all. The IAEA has visited-has mentioned, in fact, more than 12 times in its documents and verified that Iran's nuclear activities are of a peaceful nature. The agency says in fact that they have not detected any noncompliance or deviation on the part of Iran.

    So I don't get that all our activities in that realm are legal. And peaceful.

    KING: So you are open for inspection? To anyone who wants to inspect? That would take all the fears away if you would let the United States or any international body look in.

    AHMADINEJAD: The largest number of inspections in the history of the IAEA has been done in Iran. We have offered the IAEA the largest number of documents in its history. No country in the world has cooperated with the agency as much as Iran has done.

    And that's verified. But I'd like to ask you at the same, that there are countries that have nuclear weapons arsenal and are actually developing a new age nuclear warfare, should they not be inspected as well? Don't you think that their actually to be brought to an end as well?

    Who exactly is the threat? Us working with the IAEA with their supervision mechanism while the IAEA has also said that they have not found any documentation that says that Iran has deviated from the peaceful path or really those who are now developing the fourth and fifth generation of nuclear weapons. And have historically in fact used the nuclear weapon.

    Don't you think the Zionist regime needs some inspections as well? Isn't that a dual standard?

    KING: We will pick up right with that regime, as you call it, right after this.

    (Break)

    KING: We're back. Mr. President, you mentioned the Zionist regime. You called-let me get this correct, you called for Israel to be wiped off the map. Now, since you say you are a peaceful nation, you don't mean militarily. You mean politically wiped off the map? What do you mean?

    AHMADINEJAD: I think that I have to elaborate on two points here.

    Today marks in fact the fourth year that I visited in New York City and the questions that are being asked of me are the same questions that were asked four years ago. Whereas the world, in fact, has undergone some tremendous changes, many developments have unfolded since then in the United States, in Europe and everywhere else around the world. Developments are new.

    I have responded to this question many times before. The fact that we oppose the fundamentals of the Zionist regime is because of peace and justice. We see a viable peace. Perhaps as a journalist who has years of experience, you must be aware of what goes on there. The extent of the calamity, in other words, for over 60 years more than five million Palestinian have been displaced. People who were forced out of their homes.

    And those who have stayed are being bombarded every day militarily. They are being killed in their homes at times. Women and children at times. Are besieged and medicine, water and food does not always reach them sufficiently. Children lose their lives as do women as a result at times.

    Sometimes women die giving birth. Palestinian figures are assassinated and it goes to such extent that it's actually announced beforehand. Three big wars started by the Zionist regime. The last of which was in 2006 when they attacked Lebanon. So when will this calamity, this catastrophe end? Our solution is a humanitarian one.

    KING: How?

    AHMADINEJAD: What we say is that in the Palestinian territory there must be a free referendum and the Palestinian people should determine their own fate. This is the spirit and the letter of the Charter of the United Nations.

    I'd ask you, I'd like to ask you, really, how is it possible to force out the people from one land and gather other people from around the world and let them live in the homes and others and establish a government. This is really a logic that is unacceptable. What are the Palestinians to do? The world community that the United States claims to speak for, how come does not embody the voices of the Palestinians?

    KING: Why ...

    AHMADINEJAD: Sixty years of this place ...

    KING: Would you agree, and there are obviously disagreements there, would you agree to sit down with all of the people of the Middle East, Israel included, to work at some solution? You don't want harmful solutions, you don't want bombs, you don't want to obliterate a people. You want to do something politically. Why not sit down and talk, Israel included?

    AHMADINEJAD: The Zionist regime is an uninvited guest, it is an occupier.

    KING: But if you don't talk to them ...

    AHMADINEJAD: ... is killing people-allow me-I'd like to ask you. If someone comes and occupies the United States as American people, would you give them any rights or would you force them out?

    KING: But the world declared it a state. Israel is-that's a fact. You're not going to change that fact. Israel is a state.

    So all I'm asking is, why not get together now and discuss their disagreements and hopefully come to some peace and bring about justice for Palestinians?

    Why can't you? Israel, you're not going to change that.

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): The Apartheid regime of South Africa was a fact as well, where is it today? The Soviet Union was a fact as well, where is it today? Did the Soviet Union collapse as a result talks and dialogue, or as a result of resilient resistance? In other words, at times you have to resist.

    You see, over 100 peace plans have been offered for the resolution of the Palestinian crisis, and all of them have been defeated. None of them have given results. Today the head of the Palestinian Authority, the Egyptian leader, many others have negotiated with the Zionists plenty of times, but has there been results? Hundreds of meetings and negotiations, what's the result so far...

    (CROSSTALK)

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): ... except the expansion of the Zionist regime, the expansion of settlements, except for the escalation of tensions and terror and the killing of people? This regime is -- fundamentally is illegal.

    KING: All right. Let me get a break. And then we'll ask for your answer, what is the solution? Don't go away.

    (BREAK)

    KING: We're back.

    Mr. President, since violence is not the answer, and even if the Soviet Union did it without violence, South Africa did it without violence, what's the solution? How do we bring about this concept of peace everywhere? You don't want to see Israelis die, I assume you don't want to see Israelis die. You don't want to see Palestinians die. What's the answer?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Let me elaborate on two points in response the question. When we speak of a disappearing, what we're speaking of is that crime must disappear. Murders and killing must disappear, terror must disappear, aggression and occupation must disappear.

    But our solution is like a very humanitarian and a very democratic one. What we're saying is that throughout the Palestinian territories, people should gather to determine the type of government that they'd like to have and have an election for that, free elections, for all, under the supervision of international organisations.

    Let us give the Palestinians an opportunity to have self-determination. This is the only viable solution.

    KING: But does Israel remain Israel?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Well, let the people decide. Why should we decide for the people? We must allow people to decide for themselves. It's their right to decide. I think that there are two reasons for--that account for the failure of the peace plans offered for Palestine.

    The first reason is the disregard for the root cause of the problem. The Palestinian people were living in their lands. And they didn't have any problem. It was others who came and created problems for them. Well, so we really have to identify the roots of that and then seek the solution based on that reality.

    And second reason is that the right of the Palestinian people for self-determination has been overlooked. Both have been overlooked. I've heard a lot that unfortunately, a group of people are trying to infuse the idea among the American people that Iran even wants to attack the United States, that Iran is a violent country or whatnot.

    These are all false propaganda. When have we ever attacked? What we're saying is that we must allow free elections to happen in Palestine under the supervision of the United Nations.

    And the Palestinian people, the displaced Palestinian people, or whoever considers Palestine its land, can participate in free elections. And then whatever happens as a result could happen.

    KING: But you do not wish...

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Why--we can't decide for the people.

    KING: You do not wish the Jewish people harm?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): No. You see, we have no problems with Jewish people. There are many Jews who live in Iran today. In Iran, for every 150,000 people, we have one representative at the parliament, or the Majles.

    For the Jewish community, even though there are only 20,000 in Iraq, they still have one independent member in parliament who has the same prerogative as the other members of parliament.

    But please pay attention to the fact that the Zionists are not Jews. They have no religion. They have no religion. They're neither Jews nor Christians nor Muslims. They just have--wear masks of religiosity. How can you possibly be religious and occupy the land of other people?

    How can you call yourself a religious person and kill women and children?

    KING: Well, they come from a...

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Women and children, women and children were (INAUDIBLE) as a result, cannot have access to medicine.

    KING: Mr. President, do they not--I know you've denied this for some reason, but do they not--the Zionists, as you call them, do they not come from some history of persecution? Do they not come from the death of millions of men, women, and children? Is there not a birth (INAUDIBLE)--there's no birth (INAUDIBLE) in that. You don't think that happened?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): First and foremost, they specifically don't allow anyone to freely discuss the history that happened. They just say, this is our telling of the history and this is what happened. And everybody just listen to it.

    KING: You say it didn't happen?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Let's just assume--what I'm saying is let more research be done on this--that history. There is a claim that the extent of the calamity was what it was. There are people who agree with it. There are people who disagree. Some completely deny it. Some absolutely agree with the whole account of it.

    What we're saying is that we should have an impartial group go do their own research about the extent of the calamity that occurred and then announce a result of that.

    Now but what I'd like is really to put this debate aside for a moment. Let's assume that it happened, the extent of which everyone is speaking of. Where did it happen? Did it happen in Palestine? Or did it happen in Europe?

    KING: Well, it created Israel.

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): If it happened--it happened in Europe, if the crimes were committed in Europe, why should the Palestinian people be victimised as a result? Why don't the Europeans just give them a territory? Or in Alaska, perhaps. They could give them a territory anywhere they like.

    But why pay from the pocket of some other people? It's as if somebody--you throw a party from the pocket of someone else. The Palestinian people had no role in that crime. They're innocent, completely.

    KING: I'm going to have to--we'll ask the president about what he fears might happen. What's the worst fear? Right after this.

    (BREAK)

    KING: President, do you fear at all Israel or the United States attacking you?

    AHMADINEJAD: Do you think they would do that?

    KING: I'm asking you.

    AHMADINEJAD: I have no concerns in that regard because they aren't able to do that because the worst thing the US government can do would be an attack. I think that in the United States there are enough reasonable people, smart people, who would not allow the US government to make such a big mistake.

    KING: How about in Israel?

    AHMADINEJAD: The same too. It's much smaller than that for an attack. It's way too small. It doesn't even factor into the equation of Iran's foreign policy. Iran is a vast country. Have you visited Iran?

    KING: No, I am planning to next year.

    AHMADINEJAD: Oh, oh! I have to tell you, I think the whole members of the press, the media, have to come and visit Iran. The Americans, I've noticed that in the news when they want to show Iran, they sort of show a small underdeveloped sort of desert-like country. Iran is an extremely big country and very developed and powerful, too.

    With big (INAUDIBLE) people.

    KING: By the way, you mentioned human rights in Israel. Don't you have some human rights problems of your own in Iran?

    AHMADINEJAD: What do you mean by human rights problems?

    KING: People protesting that they don't have the same rights as other people? Homosexuals, you said last year, you denied there were homosexuals-there's homosexuals everywhere.

    AHMADINEJAD: I said it is not the way it is here. In Iran this is considered a very- bviously most people dislike it. And we have actually a law regarding it and the law is enforced. It is a law that was passed, it was legislated and it is an act that is against human principles. A lot of things can happen. It can cause psychological problems, social problems that affect the whole society.

    Remember, that God rules our-to improve human life. In our religion this act is forbidden and the Parliament and legislature, not now, 70 years ago, something that happened 70 - before the Islamic Republic became ...

    KING: So what happens ...

    AHMADINEJAD: Let me - well, of course, nobody has held protests. You are-are you concerned for 70 million Iranian people or a few homosexuals?

    Let's assume in Iran-let's assume in the United States that 200 million people drive cars and a million violators are rounded up and they just basically violate driving laws. Should we be worried for the 199 million people whose safety you must be concerned about or the 1 million violators? The law is the law. It's law. And it must be enforced, of course.

    Of course we do pay attention that in Iran nobody interferes in the private lives of individuals. We have nothing to do with the private realm of people. This is at the-non private, public morality. In their own house, nobody ever interferes.

    KING: More with the president of Iran in a minute.

    (BREAK)

    KING: All right. Mr. President, we have a few moments left. Do you want the United States out of Iraq right now?

    AHMADINEJAD: If it can that would be the best scenario. But I think that it needs a timetable. That's what I think. A clear timetable so that it allows for their withdrawal over a period of time.

    Because the presence of the United States there has not reduced tension and it has not limited terrorism, either. In fact, it has increased terrorism so we think that it will benefit everyone. It will benefit the Americans, the Iraqis and the region if the withdrawal happens but it needs a specific timeframe.

    KING: Do you think relations between the two countries, the United States and Iran, can get better?

    AHMADINEJAD: Definitely so. I want to remind you that the United States cut its relations with us unilaterally as a means to place pressure on us. Maybe the politicians back then in the United States saw that with the severance of ties, Iran will die or it will be weaker. But as this didn't happen, the reason was that they didn't understand the Iranian people, the nation.

    The Iranian people are great people. A people with a rich civilisation and culture. Human beings who are big at heart, big intellectually. We have our talents (ph) around a humanitarian culture that prevails. And that kind of people can always run its own affairs and manage itself with dignity and well. And we've done that. It was the US government that cut ties with us, not us.

    KING: But Senator Obama has said, Senator McCain has not, but he is open to diplomacy. Is that encouraging?

    AHMADINEJAD: We are interested in having relations that are friendly and respectful. We prefer that and propose that but it is for the American government to decide what choices it wants to make and whatever choice they make, we will also take measures and organise our efforts accordingly. But we think that a relationship based on justice and respect will benefit all sides and that's our preference.

    And we actually prefer this, that this be the case.

    KING: Do you expect it?

    AHMADINEJAD: I think that every government that comes to power in the United States must address a few sort of agenda items. The first is that it must finish the circle (INAUDIBLE) of the intervention of the United States abroad because these interventions and interferences bring about heavy cost to the American people, both materially and both in terms of the level of dignity of a people, the dignity of the American people around the world has been hard when you--other people, other nations do not have a good image of American people anymore.

    And materially, you can tell for yourself what it has done to the American economy. I heard this recently, that $700 billion are to be infused to the financial institutions were it (INAUDIBLE) to be paid from the pocket of American people.

    KING: I've got to take a break. We'll be back with our remaining moments right after this.

    (BREAK)

    AHDMADINEJAD (through translator): I just want to add a sentence regarding the last question before this, if you allow me. The US government must do two things. One, that it must limit the circle of its interventions abroad to the geography of the United States alone, rather than being involved in Afghanistan or elsewhere. The key is to invest the money of the American people for the American people, for their own health, for their own housing requirements, their own education requirements, employment requirements, their welfare to take care of areas that are afflicted by natural disaster.

    And the second thing that the American people--government must do is fix the relations with Iran. Because Iran is an important country.

    KING: Where would you like to go in the United States?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I would have liked to visit different parts of the United States. On this trip through our mission here we asked to go to California and Los Angeles--wherever we can meet with the American people and to learn about them and their lives. We think that having talks is the best way.

    The best approach, I think, that you, others in the media, the American people, must come and visit Iran. These visits will link our minds together. It will create an affinity--and we'll start liking each other.

    KING: How many children do you have? Boy, girl, what?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): One girl and two sons.

    KING: How old?

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Two have been married. That means--well first they graduated and then they got married. And one is a student at the university.

    KING: You don't look old enough to have married children.

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): In Iran we marry early.

    KING: I thank you very much --

    AHMADINEJAD (through translator): In America, too, I know the family is given a lot of value.

    KING: We thank the president for joining us tonight for a very illuminating, fast paced hour. Hope you enjoyed it as well.
     
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