updated 9/20/2006 2:35:34 PM ET 2006-09-20T18:35:34

On Sept. 19 in New York, Brian Williams sat down with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for an exclusive interview. The conversation was conducted via a translator. This transcript has been cleaned up for readability.

Brian Williams: Mr. President, thank you so much. I was interested. You wanted to be able to gesture with your hands while you spoke. What else should Americans know about you as a person, sir?

Ahmadinejad: About me? I'm an individual amongst the many of the Iranian people.

Williams: You are traveling with your wife on this trip.

Ahmadinejad: Yes.

Williams: May we know anything about her?

Ahmadinejad: She is an Iranian woman. And just as I am an Iranian too.

Williams: All right.

Ahmadinejad: And she is my friend and my companion. And I am her companion.

Williams: Mr. President, you're here as a guest of the United Nations. Under the protection of the United States. What is your message to the American people?

Ahmadinejad: I have talked about this in the past. In the letter I sent to Mr. Bush, I also addressed the American people. We think that the American people are like our people. They're good people. They support peace, equality and brotherhood. They like to see the world in peace. We think that, together, nations can uphold the peace and justice around the world.

Williams: On that point, sir, you've expressed a desire to perhaps tour and see more of the United States. Do you think that day could ever come?

Ahmadinejad: It might.

Williams: Where would you like to go?

Ahmadinejad: I don't really know that if I am here it's possible to see different parts of America. Right now the time pressures are immense, and I, there's really no time.

Williams: Is there any city or attraction you've...

Ahmadinejad: No. It's the entire country... American people are good people.

Williams: The president of the United States, speaking to the United Nations today, said to the people of Iran, "The United States respects you." But he said, "Your government is using resources to fund terrorists. And pursue nuclear weapons." He said he looks forward to the day when America and Iran can be good friends. And close partners in the cause of peace. How  do you react to the statement of the American president today?

Ahmadinejad: We have the same desire, to be together for the cause of world peace. But we have to — see what the impediments are. Is it Iranian forces that have occupied countries neighboring the United States, or is it American forces that are occupying countries neighboring Iran? If Mr. Bush is saying that he can (unintelligible) the distance between the Iranian nation and the Iranian government, he is wrong. I am a normal person. A very average, regular person in Iran. The nation decided that I become the head of the state. The nation and the government are one and single. And together, we share everything. But we too like to rise at a point where we can pursue the cause of world peace. But we have to remove the barrier. That's where the question lies.

Williams: And that is where the United States president would say, "Halt this uranium enrichment."

Ahmadinejad: I question the world peace. Is it peace by those who produce a third generation of nuclear bombs? Or those who seek peaceful nuclear technology for their power plants? We think that people who produce bombs can — the atomic bomb cannot, in fact, speak of supporting world peace. We all know that Iran's nuclear issue is an excuse. It's been 27 years now that we've faced the hostility of the U.S. administration in various forms. Let me tell you something: Before the revolution, the government in Iran was dependent on the United States. The U.S. administration (unintelligible) to say. We, the individual, was a dictator in the complete sense of the word. He suppressed people. He used guns to  put down people's demonstrations. I was a student at the time. Many of my friends were imprisoned. Because of reading books. Because of expressing their opinions about social affairs. We produced 6 million barrels of oil then. Only 600,000 of which was used domestically. The rest was exported. But our country was poor. The urban areas as well as villages were in ruin. There was really no help. The cities were in poor condition. But the prisons were growing. And that's when our nation rose. To speak freedom. To seek free elections. And to have the right over its own fate.

It expected that the U.S. administration, who claims to support freedom and democracy, to support it. To support it. Or at least to remain silent. But from the day one, the U.S. government has been against our nation. Only one case, if I were to decide, was the support it gave to Saddam Hussein during the eight year war against Iran. Do you know what happened during that war? Over 200,000 Iranian people, young men, died. Hundreds of thousands more were injured. At the same time, we were able to protect our country. But the US government supported Saddam. Nonetheless, our nation was interested in having friendly relations with everyone. We were never an aggressor on any other nation's rights. And we never repressed the rights of anyone. There was a terrorist group inside Iran that, in fact, assassinated many of our authorities and officials. The president, the prime minister, the ministers. The head of the supreme court. Many members of parliament. Regular people. And America supported this group. The question is, why? We thought we might be able to have friendly relations with the United States. But the American government chose the wrong path. And a path which is still continuing.

Williams: You say you have never repressed the rights of anyone-- and you speak of the days when people were jailed for expressing opinions. Yet, during your authority, 100 newspapers have been closed --web loggers have been shut down. Western culture and music have been stopped from entering Iran. Arguably that is not freedom of expression.

Ahmadinejad: You need to separate work that is taken legally and one that is taken illegally. You must also see that thousands of newspapers have been opened. Thousands of new opportunities are created. In our country, the law matters and will — a law approved by a representative of the people. About three months ago, a newspaper  associated with the government violated the law and was shut down. Although, it was the only really podium for our government, for the government's position. But it violated the law. So everybody is treated equally before the law. Do you truly believe that using American music is a sign of freedom?

Williams: I don't like all American music. But why not allow your people the same choice?

Ahmadinejad: But the problem of our people is not what you think it is. And this is the same mistake that the American government makes about Iran. I prefer really not going after the kind of things that you think may matter. Our people are very free. They have a direct — contact with the president. Regular people, everyone. They talk. And-they debate. And the president is among them. Everybody is together. And they decide together. Of course there are, you know, differences of taste and everywhere. We don't want people to be robots. Or to have a (unintelligible) with beyond which they can't move.

Williams: But I think even our president expressed today America's quarrel is not with the Iranian people. It's with you.

Ahmadinejad: The war, who was it against? The Iranian government or the Iranian people? Against the Iranian nation. When (unintelligible) son was occupied was it an act against the Iranian government or the Iranian nation? The bombardment of our cities by Saddam, was that an act against the government or the people? Who supported Saddam? Were these truly acts against the Iranian government? Iran has been under sanctions for 27 years. Even spare parts for aircrafts are denied to us. Is this against the government or an act against the people? Again, I'm saying, in Iran, the government and the nation are one. And I am the representative of the Iranian people. Certainly not as a judge, but as an elected official.

Williams: If your goal is dialogue with America, and the American president says, "It's OK, keep your nuclear programs and keep your homes warm. Stop enriching uranium toward weapons." How do you react?

Ahmadinejad: Who is the right judge for that? Any entity except the IAEA? Reports indicate that Iran has had no deviation. We have said on numerous occasions that our activities are for peaceful purposes. The agency's cameras videotape all the activities that we have. So I ask, did Iran build the atomic bomb and use it? Who are the ones who are testing the third generation of nuclear bombs? All bombs with micro-agents or chemical agents. You must know that, because of our beliefs and our religion, we're against such acts. We are against the atomic bomb. We believe bombs are used only to kill people. And we are against killing people.

Williams: You have large missiles with a long range. Why keep them in your arsenal if you don't someday hope to tip them with a nuclear weapon?

Ahmadinejad: So are you thinking of the possibility of a danger? Is that what you're speaking of?

Williams: I'm asking about your arsenal.

Ahmadinejad: Yes, we are powerful and strong in defending ourselves. But, again, I ask, who has the nuclear bomb and has used it before? Which one is a bigger danger? One that's trying to develop a fuel for peaceful purposes? Or the one that made a nuclear weapon? That's where my main point is. We think that the world should run with justice. Some governments cannot pursue an arsenal of nuclear weapons, but then prevent others from developing fuel for peaceful purposes thinking that there might be a future threat. And that's preventing them from developing the facilities that they need for peaceful nuclear development. We think that the nuclear issue is an excuse, just like previous excuses. We think that the American government is against development of Iran. Not a nuclear weapon, per se. Because, after all, there are other governments in our region that have nuclear weapons. But they're supported by the American government. So how do you respond to this contradiction?

Williams: I am not an employee of the state, of course.

Ahmadinejad: I'm not speaking of you, sir. I understand. For Bush.

Williams: Perhaps because we will not, in this conversation, reach a nuclear agreement. Let me ask you about the pope.What was your reaction to the pope's speech? And do you accept his apology?

Ahmadinejad: I talked about this yesterday. I think that the people who give political advice to the pope were not well informed. Because when we look at history, just look at the 20th century, for example. And the wars waged in that country. Over 100 million people were killed. Hundreds of million more were displaced. Who created those wars? Those who were killed exceed the number than than the individuals who were killed in previous centuries combined. Where does the first and second world wars occur? Who started it? Where did the Muslims start a war? Of course, we certainly believe that those who wage war are neither Muslim or Christian. Nor Jew. They really don't believe in any religion. Because all religion report peace and brotherhood. All support justice. I think if the pope had had a little more thorough historical examination of events, he would not have made those remarks. History is before our eyes. A hundred million dead just in the 20th century alone. By whom? Right now the wars that are around us in the world, who's behind them? Did you know, by any chance, that over 100 -- over a period of 110 years — the U.S. government went into 111 wars? Who were these people? Muslims? Christians? Jews? No, certainly not. I believe that these people don't believe in religion at all. Those who want to solve problems with war do not believe in the sayings of the prophet. Because the prophet, were to speak, for peace and justice.

Williams: Do you believe the pope is a decent man? And do you accept his words of apology?

Ahmadinejad: I think that he actually takes back his statement. And there is no problem. He should be careful that those who want  war do not take advantage of his statements and use it for their own causes People in important positions should be careful about what they say. What he said may give an excuse to another group to start a war. Where the religion should support peace and brotherhood. Christ was a prophet for peace, as was Moses. And as was the prophet Muhammad.

Williams: Mr. President, this is not a matter of great concern, this next question, but we have gotten used to seeing you in the tan jacket with the zipper. Today, you are dressed differently. Is that jacket a symbol of your standing or upbringing in Iran?

Ahmadinejad: No. It depends on which one I'm more comfortable wearing. And it of course depends on my colleagues and friends, too. I knew that you were going to wear a suit, so I decided to wear this jacket.

Williams: Excellent.  You are on the cover of Time magazine here in the United States and around the world. Inside, it says, "A Date with a Dangerous Mind."  Why do you think they think you have a dangerous mind?  Do you?

Ahmadinejad: You should hear what I have to say, and then be the judge of that. I think that if people have a hard time accepting the logic and fact, they should not actually accuse others. The picture is an attempt to darken my face a lot. I think it actually shows me much younger than what I am. The first page, the cover.

Williams: Oh, the cover?

Ahmadinejad: This one? The cover page. Oh, it's really…

Williams: You approve?

Ahmadinejad: …questionable. It's darkened me. And also much — it looks much younger than what I am.

Williams: The question on the cover is what war with Iran would look like. How do you think the discussion has been allowed to get that far, that we're discussing possible war between the U.S. and Iran?

Ahmadinejad: I think we need to ask this question from American — U.S. — politician. But please, let's accept that these questions are raised by only a group of politicians here. But do you really think that the document, the passage shows on this select group of 60 and their goal? I think they're very wrong in what they're doing. They're not moving forward with the developments around the world. The world has changed. Nations have — are awakened now. They want their rights. Equal rights. And fair one. The time for world empires has ended. The U.S. government thinks that it's still the period after World War II. That when they came out as a victor. And enjoyed special rights. And can rule therefore, over the rest of the world. I explicitly say that I am against the policies chosen by the U.S. government to run the world. Because these policies are moving the world towards war. I think that we need to resort to logic, not war. Why should we speak of war? What has happened? What's happened is that the Iranian nation wants to stand on it's feet. It doesn't want to be dependent. It wants to have it's own technology. It wants to develop. Why the U.S. government so against our people? They speak of war so easily, as if it's on their daily agenda. We never speak of war.

Williams: Because…

Ahmadinejad: We speak of peace, equality, rationality.

Williams: The fear of our President is that a nuclear weapon is on Iran's agenda.

Ahmadinejad: I've said before, he's not afraid of a nuclear weapon. There already is nuclear weapon in our region, held by groups, supported by the U.S. government. Is there discrimination here? Are we having a selective approach? We don't need weapons at all. We're strong enough to defend ourselves. And we support peace. And we support equality. We do not want to rule over other people's land. When repeated IAA reports indicate that there has been no deviation in Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology, then why should the U.S. government be so fearful? We think that the world is afraid of the policies being pursued by the U.S. government. Because they won't accept any at all. They're not a party to the MPT either. Why not? Well, why don't they sign the MPT? Why don't they destroy the nuclear arsenal they have? And then the world will be free. We abide by the regulations of the MPT. And we must remain transparent with our people and honest with our people.

Williams: There is something you said that upset and scared a lot of people.  It upset a lot of Jews in the United States and around the world when you called the Holocaust a myth.  There are people, some people I know who escaped Hitler's reign. There is research. There are scholars who can teach you about it. And yet, you've expressed doubt about the Holocaust. Why?

Ahmadinejad: I've answered three of your questions on this. You know that I belong to the university. I'm an academician by nature. I'm interested in having a scientific approach to all events. But we've chosen three questions. The first question was: In the first World War, over 60 — In the second World War, over 60 million people lost their lives. They were all human beings. Why is it that only a select group of those who were killed have become so prominent and important?

Williams: Because of the difference humankind draws between warfare and genocide.

Ahmadinejad: Do you think that the 60 million who lost their lives were all at the result of warfare alone? There were two million that were part of the military at the time, perhaps altogether, 50 million civilians with no roles in the war — Christians, Muslims. They were all killed. The second and more important question that I raised was, if this event happened, and if it is a historical event, then we should allow everyone to research it and study it. The more research and studies are done, the more we can become aware of the realities that happened. We still leave open to further studies absolute knowledge of science or math. Historical events are always subject to revisions, and reviews and studies. We're still revising our thoughts about what happened over thousands of years ago. Why is it that those who ask questions are persecuted? Why is every word so sensitivity or such prohibition on further studies on the subject? Where as we can openly question God, the prophet, concepts such as freedom and democracy? And the third question that I raised in this regard: if this happened, where did it happen? Did the Palestinian people have anything to do with it? Why should the Palestinians pay for it now? Five million displaced Palestinian people is what I'm talking about. Over 60 years of living under threat. Losing the lives of thousands of dear ones. And homes that are destroyed on a daily basis over people's heads. You might argue that the Jews have the right to have a government. We're not against that. But where? At a place where their people were — several people will vote for them, and where they can govern.

Williams: Yes, but…

Ahmadinejad: Not at the cost of displacing a whole nation. And occupying the whole territory.

Williams: Is that a change in your position that Israel should be wiped away?  And second, would you ever be willing to sit down with Jews, with scholars, with survivors of Hitler's camps where six million died?  Our American film director Stephen Spielberg is one of many collecting the stories of those still alive, who will tell you of the dead, and the program to kill the Jews in Germany and elsewhere.

Ahmadinejad: I feel as there is a feeling a feeling of a need to get the truth here. Among American politicians as well as some media here. The main question is if this happened in Europe, what is the fault of the Palestinian people? This is a problem we have today, the root cause of many of our problems, not what happened 60 years ago. The Palestinian people are — their lives are being destroyed today. There's a pretext of the Holocaust. Lands have been occupied, usurped. What is their fault?  What are they to be blamed for? Are they not human beings? Do they have no rights? What role did they play in the Holocaust? Some attempt to sort of change the subject. From the first day I said, "Well, assuming that the Holocausthappened..." Then again, what does it have to do with the Palestinian people? Not at all. Nothing. Believe me, Palestinian people are human beings. They have feelings. They like to live in their own land, to have the right to self determination, to feel secure in their homes. So that small kids are not killed. So that women are not taken from their own homes, taken from their own home. What is the future of such measures?

Williams: If I was President Bush, sitting here across from you, what would you say to him? President to President, but more important, man to man?

Ahmadinejad: It would be really good if you were, actually here, instead of, I mean, replacing Mr. Bush. I think that the situation would have been better here, if you were Mr. Bush. I sent him a letter.

Williams: I'm aware of it.

Ahmadinejad: I raised some very serious issues. I really expressed my thoughts and beliefs. You know that I am teacher. I am interested in talks and in dialogue. I like to understand the truth. Facts. And in that letter, I raised very important subject. I invited him to peace, brotherhood and friendship. But we did not receive an answer. Do you think that I should say anything besides the things that I mentioned there? I, as man to another man, I would say, "We can truly love people. Human beings, all of them. Not a particular party, group or faction alone. Not a special investor or shareholder alone. Everyone. Believe me, children in Africa are human beings, too. They like to have peace, live in peace and live in comfort. They love their parents. And their parents love their children, wherever they live. But they see their children's lives being destroyed in front of their eyes. Because of poverty. While they live on wealth — their lands are very wealthy and resourceful.

Williams: And you talk about children. You and I are both fathers. Recently in your country, thousands of people have signed up to be part of suicide brigades.  How would you feel if your own children chose to do such a thing?

Ahmadinejad: Well, what is your feeling about that? Think if America is attacked. What would you like your son to do? Do you want him to defend America or not? I think you would like your son to defend America. It's the same with our son. When you don't have arms, when you don't have power, what can you do? You will sacrifice yourself for your country. It's not a bad thing. Although we are against war. We hate it. The war was imposed on the Middle East. Just look at the scene. About 10,000 kilometers, you look around us.  There are hundreds of forces and troops, hundreds of thousands of troops around us. Under the pretext of freedom and democracy. They don't value the people of the region. The people of the region know how to run their own affairs. It's regretful. This coming from a group that supported Saddam for eight years. Saddam was the biggest dictator in our region. Even today, they support countries that have had no elections whatsoever. But still they speak of creating democracy through war. Especially coming from outside. It's impossible to achieve.

Williams: Isn't the world a safer place without Saddam?

Ahmadinejad: It could have been. If you look at Iraq today, everybody was happy was Saddam was overthrown. People thought that the occupying forces would hand over the affairs of the country immediately to the people — at least as soon as possible. Not only did they not leave, but they also said that they plan to stay. They are building huge military bases, to stay. Since the overthrow of Saddam to this day, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed there. We think that this goes against the very rules of security. You know, we're very close with the people in Iraq. Many of our people are families and extended relatives. There have been a lot of inter-marriages. There's the deep relationship on an emotional level between our people and theirs. Even Saddam's war against Iran did nothing to damage these old ties. Because we've lived together for thousands of years. The entire Iranian nation sympathizes with every Iraqi individual that suffers as a result of the occupation. Whereas we know that according to international law, creating safety and security is the responsibility of the occupying force. Iraqi authorities say that many of the tensions and the insecurity in the country is as a result of the occupation and occupying forces. Why should this be the case? It could have been much better. Saddam's removal could have been a very good beginning for the American government. To strengthen it's friendship ties with the nations of the region. Everybody was happy in the beginning. But today, the conditions in the region have changed. Anti-American sentiment, hatred towards the American government has increased on a daily basis. Why is this the case?

Williams: Hence...

Ahmadinejad: It could have been different.

Williams: Hence...

Ahmadinejad: We are not happy with what we see there.

Williams: Some of the fighters are trained and funded by your country, shooting at the American soldiers.

Ahmadinejad: This is the claim the U.S. government makes. But there's no evidence. Security in Iraq has the worst impact on Iran. Because we're neighbors. We have very close ties with Iraqi government and Iraqi people. We like to see a powerful Iraqi government. A powerful and secure government in Iraq will benefit Iran. And will benefit the entire region. Because the government, the parliament, the people of Iraq all have close relations with our nation. They're our friends.

Williams: And yet, I have stood on the helmets of Iranian soldiers, which are now used as pavement on Saddam's old parade grounds. I think that also speaks to the bitterness on and off, over the years between the two nations.

Ahmadinejad: Undoubtedly, Saddam hated us. But not the Iraqi people. Millions of people from Iran travel to Iraq on a yearly basis. Kurd, Sunni and Shias were all friends.  The Iraqi president is an old friend of mine. The head of the state, the prime minister, is a very close friend of mine, too. And the head of their parliament, the parliament speaker, is a good friend of mine, too. So, we're friends.

Williams: Thank you.


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