NBC News
updated 7/28/2008 1:13:41 PM ET 2008-07-28T17:13:41

Following is the complete transcription of the interview Monday between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Brian Williams, anchor of “NBC Nightly News.” Ahmadinejad spoke through a translator:

WILLIAMS: Mr. President, I know you wanted to begin with a statement.

AHMADINEJAD: In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful, a prayer for the emergence of the 12th imam. Greetings to the people of the United States and I want to say something. Today it’s very clear that all nations, all peoples, all thinkers are displeased with the prevailing conditions around the world. The current conditions around the world fly in the face of dignity, human dignity and the standing of human beings. And the specter of — hatred, wars, and poverty is weighing heavy on our different human societies. Naturally, whoever feels for the society of man would also like a happy life, a life full of prosperity. And those of us who have such feelings must make an effort, must make an effort to change the present situation.

And to do that, we need to understand the root cause which have led to the present situation. We believe that a materialistic outlook towards the world and also a materialistic, again, outlook when it comes to human beings and — egoism and also efforts for hegemony and control over others are the root causes of these problems. In a nutshell, distance and — indifference to the teachings of the divine prophets and our ethical standards are the root causes that beguile humanity today.

That is why the teachings of divine prophets, in other words, a belief in the almighty, justice, friendship, and peace and love for fellow human beings, we should return to those. If these come to prevail around the world, they will come to see that the world will be full of peace and friendship, love for one another, and the root causes of these problems will dry up, so to speak. And this is the responsibility weighing on the shoulders of those who have love for their fellow human beings and have — love for different societies around the world. This was what I needed to share with all nations and the people in the United States.

WILLIAMS: Thank you Mr. President. This is our third meeting in 3 years. We last spoke on the record in a setting like this 2 years ago in New York. You’ve accepted our request for an interview, we’ve traveled a great distance to have this conversation. So I am curious to hear in more specific sense, is your message to world, is your message to the United States, one of confrontation or cooperation?

AHMADINEJAD: Well, this question which I am asking from American statesmen, when it comes to the Iranian people, what road do they want to choose? What approach for more than 50 years now the — the policy of American statesmen has been to confront the Iranian people. And our people, to a large extent, have become acclimated with this situation, and we have tried to work around it.

Today, we see new behavior shown by the United States and the officials of the United States. My question is: Is such behavior rooted in a new approach; in other words, mutual respect, cooperation, and justice? Or this approach is a continuation in the confrontation with the Iranian people but in a new guise?

If this is the continuation of the old — process, well, the Iranian people need to defend its right, its — its interests as well. But if the approach changes, we will be facing a new situation. And the response by the Iranian people will be a positive one.

WILLIAMS: Specifically, what do you think is the reason for this new behavior on the part of United States? Why do you think, for the first time since 1991, there is no U.S. aircraft carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf. Why do you think the United States has come to the table to sit across from Iran in Geneva?

AHMADINEJAD: We welcomed that gesture, what happened over there. But the continuation and this expanding to cover other aspects of cooperation and relations can show a new approach on the part of the Americans.

WILLIAMS: Specifically, there is a group of nations in Geneva. And they have asked for an answer from you by Saturday. It has to do with the processing of nuclear materials. I note that you are smiling. I would like very much to know your answer.

AHMADINEJAD: To what?

WILLIAMS: What you will respond to the group of nations in Geneva. They have given you a deadline of Saturday.

Well, I didn’t get that impression from the Geneva meeting. They submitted a package and we responded by submitting our own package. They, again, submitted a work plan, and we submitted our own work plan. It’s very natural in the first steps we are going to negotiate over the common ground as they exist inside the two packages.

If the two parties succeed in agreeing over the common ground, that will help us to work on our differences as well to reach an agreement. The main question here is whether this approach is the continuation of the old approach or it — is it a totally new approach? If they are going to threaten the Iranian people and impose their will on us, the answer is very clear.

But if they want to cooperate, well, we need to sit down around a table to talk and to determine the areas for cooperation. We prefer this approach to be one of cooperation. But they are free to decide, decide as you please. Having said that, we prefer for us to proceed towards cooperation. You know full well that nobody can threaten the Iranian people and pose deadlines which they expect us to meet.

‘This is a great and mighty country’
This is not helpful in resolving anything. But Mr. Jalili and Mr. Solana, both those gentlemen have expressed their pleasure with — how pleased they are, in other words, with the outcome of the meeting. We feel that the continuation of the negotiations have to concentrate on common ground. And that can help different countries to come together.

WILLIAMS: Perhaps I should be more specific. They are asking for your response by Saturday, to the question, “are you willing to suspend uranium enrichment?” And if doing that, would welcome you into wider world. Is that something Iran is willing to do?

AHMADINEJAD: Well, the world — the doors rather of the larger world are not closed to us. This is a great and mighty country, a great nation with a great economy, a rich culture, thousands of years of history and civilization. And we have very good economic and cultural relations with countries around the world. It would be very good for you to walk on the streets here in Tehran, in other cities for that matter, and gain a better appreciation of life in this part of the world.

For the continuation our lives and for progress, we do not need the services, if I can use the word, of a few countries. I believe that for agreements, for cooperation, for dialogue, if you pose pre-conditions, that would be an effort to continue with disagreement or lack of cooperation. We believe that if we accentuate common ground, we can reach an agreement in a much easier way.

Today, you cannot even issue ultimatums to a country which has a few million people living in it, much less for Iran. And also every action needs a sound legal basis. And in that meeting, having said that, what you’re saying here was not put on the table. Some people are saying that the subject of the meeting was not that at all. This is not my impression from the Geneva meeting. I believe that a step forward was taken. And such steps must continue, again, new steps need to be taken. The presence of the American representative in that meeting was good, I have to say. And, of course, in a sound, logical environment, we need to continue with these efforts.

WILLIAMS: Respectfully, to your point about the robust Iranian economy. Estimates are of 20-percent inflation, workers strikes for back-wages. And a lot of people have argued it is because of the isolation, because of the sanctions you mentioned earlier.

AHMADINEJAD: You shouldn’t worry needlessly about the Iranian people. The Iranian people are very able to resolve their issues themselves.

WILLIAMS: I’m curious than Sir, in this nation, known for its petroleum reserves, beneath our feet, why are there two hour lines for gasoline? Why is there gasoline rationing? What is that a result of?

AHMADINEJAD: Well, these are certain issues that are domestic matters. And if there is need, we can sit down in another venue and talk about these. It would be similar to saying to — to asking rather why 1.2 percent of the American population are inside prisons. More than three million people. Again, it would be like asking why Katrina survivors in the U.S. still are homeless or 40 million people living on the streets homeless without health cover. These are domestic issues that pertain to Americans obviously.

And the people of Iran are as you see around you. If a person or party sincerely based on law takes a step forward, the Iranian nation will welcome that. But if a party uses the language of threats or impose his will or try to impose his will on us, the response by the Iranian people will be historic.

WILLIAMS: So, one more attempt. While you may not recognize the coming Saturday deadline for your answer — would you be willing to suspend nuclear enrichment if it meant a more prosperous Iran, and a more peaceful world going forward?

AHMADINEJAD: Today, Iran is prosperous. It’s happy. And every day we become more prosperous compared to the previous day. Why do certain people think that their lifestyles are the best lifestyles in the world? People, nations have their own lifestyles. I think that you should look at the situation through the interests of the U.S. The question is whether American statesmen want to continue with their policies of the past 50 years. Have they at all benefited from such policies?

I think that the most pessimistic analysts inside the U.S. would say that they have lost out. And, of course, optimists would say that we have — the — these policies on the part of the U.S. have been very detrimental. I believe that in the life of man, there are things that are more important than material welfare and prosperity. In other words, we are talking about the dignity of human beings.

WILLIAMS: So you don’t deny there has been a substantial shift in U.S. position toward Iran. And one more time Sir, the question, would you be willing to meet that with a substantial shift of your own in attitudes, policies, toward the United States?

AHMADINEJAD: We have shown this. We participated in the meeting. We welcomed the initiative. I think that if this process is continued by the American government in the not-so-distant future, the situation will change. This means for the Americans to recognize the rights of the Iranian nation, recognize the rule of law, and also recognize a fair and just situation which needs to prevail. These are not difficult demands. I believe that American politicians, statesmen, should not be very much — affected by the prevailing media environment.

If they want to change their policy towards Iran, well, they have to announce that and take actual steps towards that. I think that this benefits the American government, and it serves the interests of all of us. We — we’ll welcome such an effort.

‘We think that the market should be free’
WILLIAMS: Mr. President, what do you think is a fair price for a barrel of oil?

AHMADINEJAD: Well, a fair price — this has to be determined inside the environs, if I can use the word, of economy. We think that the market should be free and — these commodities should compete in a free setting or conditions. At the moment, the situation is not realistic. It is rather manufactured and the prices are not realistic as a result.

WILLIAMS: Can you specify how much, by percentage, it is overvalued right now, unrealistically?

AHMADINEJAD: Well, I can’t give you an exact figure right now because the market is not a real market. Some powers are manipulating the prices inside the market. Do you really think that the price of oil is the end result of a healthy competition inside the market? It’s not.

WILLIAMS: Where do you see future of Iraq, near term, the next few years?

AHMADINEJAD: Well, in a long-term approach, I believe that the Iraqi people will overcome, prevail over, in other words, their present problems. But in the immediate future, everything depends on the behavior as shown by the American government. If the American government and officials take up a rational, a humanitarian approach, the conditions inside Iraq will improve very quickly.

But if not, if they want to impose their will on the nation of Iraq, historical precedence tells them that they will not abide by this. And they will resist. Under such conditions, obviously the Iraqi people will incur some damages. But by the end of the day, they will prevail. They will succeed. But the main damages will be incurred by those parties which decided to disrespect the Iraqi nation.

WILLIAMS: Because you follow the news media in the United States and elsewhere, I know you’re aware that analysts who study Iran believe that you want is a list of items. You would like a discussion of all kinds of items and issues — the full spectrum — what has been called the grand bargain. True or false?

AHMADINEJAD: Well, you have to appreciate. I don’t even like the word a — a — a contract, if you will, or a deal would be a better translation. What is there for us to bargain over? Over our own right? The rights of other peoples? Our own independence? No. In an environment — we can cooperate in an environment which benefits all. All will benefit from such a environment.

And there is no need for any party to lose out. In a fair setting, everyone will benefit. And durable peace and security will prevail, will come to exist. I believe that all issues must be approached in a holistic manner. They are interrelated, these issues. All issues around the world are interrelated for that matter. Economy, politics, security are very closely linked, also culture.

WILLIAMS: How closely have you been following the presidential campaign in the United States?

AHMADINEJAD: Well, in a normal manner, if I can use the words, just the stories that the newspapers, the media are carrying.

WILLIAMS: Do you welcome the idea of an American Interests Section in Iran and how would you feel about the establishment of a full and complete United States embassy?

AHMADINEJAD: Well, at the moment, an interests section is — open. It’s running right now. An American interests section is, again, operating in Tehran. The Swiss Embassy is doing that. But any measure which leads to the development of relations between the two peoples, we will welcome that.

WILLIAMS: Mr. President, again respectfully, when Americans say they want to talk to the real power in Iran, is that person you or the religious leader of this country Ayatollah Khamenei? And as a part of that question, will you be victorious in next year’s election?

AHMADINEJAD: Inside the U.S., who makes the decisions? Really? Who makes the decisions? Do you know that, sir? Does the President make the decisions or others? Do you not know that?

WILLIAMS: Today, my role is not to answer questions, is to ask them. But I am curious to see where this is going, Mr. President.

AHMADINEJAD: Well, the process of decision making inside Iran is very clear. We have a very transparent set of laws. And the — and the decisions are very clear and the powers are very clear as well. And different officials take decisions within the realms of their responsibility.

‘We will repeat these exercises’
WILLIAMS: What about your likelihood of success next year?

AHMADINEJAD: I think that we need to wait for one year.

WILLIAMS: That is all you will say?

AHMADINEJAD: What do you mean exactly by that?

WILLIAMS: You’re willing to comment no further on your own election?

AHMADINEJAD: Do you have any specific questions? I will be happy to take them.

WILLIAMS: I have one for you. An American, a former FBI agent named Bob Levinson, moved and disappeared in Iran. How much do you know about his case and the status, the search for him?

AHMADINEJAD: There was a claim made some time ago, some people came over, the gentleman’s family came over. They talked and met with our officials and were given our responses. I see no reason for a person who was given an Iranian visa and — came into Iran, arrived in Iran through official channels, to have problems here. Our security officials and agents have expressed their willingness to assess the FBI if the FBI has any information about his travels around the world.

We have said that we are ready to help, to assist with that matter. There are certain information that only FBI at the moment have. I am not an expert in that field, as you might appreciate, so I’m not going to make a judgment here whether that information, as they say, it is true and only held by the FBI or other parties for that matter.

WILLIAMS: Recently, Mr. President, Iran conducted a missile test. The photograph released by your own news agency to the wider world was found by analysts in the United States, using very sophisticated sophisticated computers, to have been doctored. The image was repeated to make it look like a larger launch that it was. Have you looked into this yourself? And do you have a reaction: true or false?

AHMADINEJAD: You need to know what some media have done is fabricated. It’s not authentic. We don’t need to do these things. Our missile defense might is very clear and it is very mighty. I ask them not be hasty. We will repeat these exercises down the line. Whenever there is a need, we will repeat those exercises

WILLIAMS: I’ve seen associates of yours approaching which means we’ve reached our last question. I will give this one last try, Mr. President. And the question is this: Is Iran’s goal to have nuclear power or to be a nuclear power in the sense of possessing weapons. It’s obviously the great fear of Israel and others in this region and it seems to stop the prospect of talks and better relations again and again. A group in Geneva seems to be asking you, coming this Saturday, whether or not you are willing to suspend activity. And one more time, I want to allow you the opportunity to answer.

AHMADINEJAD: It’s very interesting. Before this meeting that is going to take place, you are aware of what other people are going to do, apparently. This tells me that you are a very able reporter and very active. Congratulations are in order. Before something happens, apparently you know what’s going to happen. This is interesting. Having said that, we are not working to manufacture a bomb. We don’t believe in a nuclear bomb. We also think it will not effect political relations. The Zionist regime which you refer to earlier has an arsenal of hundreds of nuclear warheads. Has this arsenal helped the Zionists to prevail inside the conflict inside Lebanon? No.

Again, did nuclear arms help the Soviet Union from falling and disintegrating. For that matter, did a nuclear bomb help the U.S. to prevail inside Iraq or Afghanistan, for that matter. Nuclear bombs belong to the 20th century. We are living in a new century. We think that when it cam to the nuclear issue to nuclear issue, an inappropriate measure or action was taken. Nuclear energy must not be equaled to a nuclear bomb. This is a disservice to the society of man

Nuclear energy is very beneficial and very clean, by the way. All nations must use it. A bomb, obviously, is a very bad thing. Nobody should have such a bomb. If there are parties that claim a bomb is a bad thing, it’s only appropriate for them, as a first step, to destroy their stockpiles. Destroy their bombs and allow clean energy to be utilized by all.

I ask you if today, 1,000 nuclear power plants were up and running, would we have seen an increase in the price of oil? I am sure we wouldn’t have had such high prices which is affecting the economies of all countries. It has created problems for their economies. Nuclear energy is a renewable energy. It’s clean. It’s environmentally friendly and all nations must possess it.

And there should be a very concrete, if I can use the word, set of regulations, a fair set of regulations which will control the activities of all nations to supervise things, without discrimination. To supervise without discrimination. Allow nations to have access to such clean energy. [UNINTELLIGIBLE] which I talked about earlier will show itself, will manifest itself here as well.

There are parties, which have bombs themselves, and they have nuclear energy as well and unfair basis and on a discriminatory basis, they are preventing other people — other parties, from utilizing clean nuclear energy.

On many occasion, the IAEA has officially announced that there has been no diversion when it comes to nuclear activities on the part of Iran. I would like to repeat again: if parties want to cooperate with the Iranian nation, the way to go about that would not be ultimatums or threats or to ask the Iranian people, for that matter, to give up its rights. That option leads to nowhere and it has been experimented with time and again.

If there are parties which want to experience what has been experienced in the past, I’d advise them not to do that. But having said that, I cannot prevent them from doing that.

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