Video: Iranian reformist leader: Ties with U.S. could improve

Dateline NBC
updated 6/17/2009 12:33:09 PM ET 2009-06-17T16:33:09
transcript

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami sat down with NBC New's Ann Curry for an interview on May 23, 2009. Read the interview here, and see the full Dateline NBC report here.

Ann Curry, NBC News:

Your Excellency, why are you hoping that President Ahmadinejad will not be reelected?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

Right now, I am quite glad that we have this election to be held, and I hope that it would be a good and healthy election.  And what is the first priority to us is that people would feel responsible coming to the scene, go to the ballot boxes. And whatever is getting out of it we will accept it.

But I believe most of the people would like to have other breakthrough solutions and policies.  And, naturally, we would like to have the same, a change.  And if the people would come to the ballot boxes in large, then the majority will win.  And that's what we expect.

Ann Curry:

What would Mr. Mousavi do that President Ahmadinejad won't do?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

You know, our country has a very particular position.  We have, our nation have very special goals.  And we have been striving and and fighting for freedom and independence, and the conclusion of this struggle was Islamic Republic of Iran.

People are deciding about their government and the government should feel responsible against people, and they should have the rights of all the citizens.  And, you know, we have a very particular strategic and geopolitical position.  We have huge resources; we have very ancient background and history.

But, unfortunately, in the past couple of decades, we have been hindered a little bit, and we may compensate to have all-out development.  And I think in all these respects we have problem.  And we do need the ones who would think about development, advancement of the country to get to the deserved position Iran should have in international community.  To think about the national interest and should have the power to have a proper planning, domestically and in the international affairs, so to take advantage of the opportunities to have promotion and development alongside the other nations.  And we have huge revenues and resources, and we could have had much better plans for development out of these revenues much faster.  But it didn't happen, unfortunately.

And I strongly believe that our position in the world in the past was much better than what we have today. I'm not condemning anyone, and I don't say that anyone had some misintention. But what has been implemented was wrong. And it could be much better serving the nation, serving the development in advancement of the nation.  And realizing the goals that we have been fighting for in our revolution.  Freedom and independence.

And I believe that Mr.-- we don't say Mousavi, with his approach and his reputation as a prime minister, and the way he thinks about asking about the solutions from the others' and expert ideas.  And how he really respects experts' ideas and respects people, I think he would be much more successful.

Ann Curry:

This election is occurring at a significant moment for Iran and for the United States.  How would you describe this moment?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

Of course, in regard to our relationship with the United States, there are lots of discussions.  It goes back to a couple decades ago in the past.  And of course it's due to the wrong policies that the American officials decided upon Iran and the region, particularly Iran, I mean.

But I don't believe that this past should always get continued, like a beast casting a shadow over us.  We have to look at the future.  A future in which we would preserve our identity and values-- the Islamic revolution.  Our national interests.  And at the same time, the Americans would serve their national interests on the other side.

If they go and look at the past, then it is very gloomy.  When we look at the future horizon, and if we believe that these policies about Iran would never get continued again, and Iran would also feel realistic toward the relationship with the United States, I think we would get to the conclusion that Iranians would feel confident that this is the wise decision.

And we would have the perfect relationship with the Americans.  And also we would have the position that we do deserve in the international community.  We used to have it before, and I don't think that election would make a major difference in this regard.

It goes back to the honesty of President Obama in what he has stated with regard to change, and how this change would be essential with regard to their approach toward Iran.  And how far President Obama is ready to confess about these mistakes and compensate them and get to a compromise.  And to remove the obstacles on the way of bringing up this situation to a normal relationship.

There is one good advantage in President Obama.  I think I am quite optimistic that he would be able to serve the national interests of the United States and the whole world to the best interests of all the people around the globe, and particularly with Iran and the United States.

And Iran should also be ready to take advantage of this opportunity and this American approach to serve its national interests.  And election, of course, can be a positive step ahead if we would have a president that would devise the same positive, optimistic approaches.  Some wise decisions to be made by the future Iranian president, then we may hope that we would get to a compromise.

Ann Curry:

What mistakes do you believe the United States must admit-- that President Obama must admit for there to be better relationships with Iran?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

You know, the policies that the American administration devised in the past half century after Second World War was not the proper one, we believe from our own point of view.  And, you know, the American nation is a big nation.  We respect them.  And the United States cannot be neglected.  It's a very important, impressive country.

The economic recession that is happening in the United States is a good example.  It is casting its shadow over everyone.  That shows the importance of the United States.  As a matter of science, technology, and technical affairs, America has a second to none position.  I really respect the American nation.

I have discussed this matter with the Americans thoroughly in details.  I do not want to go to the details now, but I believe the policies that they have devised in international community, particularly with regard to Middle East and Iran as of 50 years ago, was not proper, was wrong.  Even after Islamic revolution, they have the improper policy. Slideshow: Inside Iran

And I have to state that there is a pessimistic approach toward the American policy.  Not just from the government, also from the people, the Iranian nation, so we do require a major change.  And the Americans have the key role and the leverage to change this approach. And Iranians should also revise their approach toward the American policies and, on the other hand, the Americans would do the same.  And particularly in the eight years of new conservatives in office, these misunderstatings were even more.  And they committed more mistakes.  And the reactions was also in return very severe.  And we may hope that that time is over.  That era.

And both sides, considering their national interests, which have a lot in common, I believe, we may define them.  We may look at a better future and horizon.  The United States should reduce the pressure over Iran.  And also sending the Iranian nuclear dossier to Security Council was a vague action.

It was a wrong decision and it didn't work, ultimately.  We may get to a compromise with understanding and wise decisions.  But anyhow, ultimately this dossier is sent to the Security Council.  The first step is that it should be frozen in the Security Council and to be taken back to the IAEA.

And there shouldn't be any precondition for the talks between Iran and United States, and two major issues that have been accepted should be the base for our discussions.  The United States states that Iran may get access to the nuclear arms.  And they would like to have objective guarantee.

Iran is quite prepared to do so, to give this objective guarantee, because we do not have any intention to get access to the nuclear weapon.  I'm aware of all the details of this dossier-- nuclear dossier-- it was developed during my time in office.  And Iran, like any other member of non-proliferation treaty, has the rights to have access for peaceful purposes of nuclear energy.

It should be seconded by United States and other countries.  And if there is the goodwill, we would be able to sit at the table of negotiations without any precondition.  At the same time, Iran would get access to these peaceful purposes of nuclear energy.  And, on the other hand, would give objective guarantee to the other countries that we would not go to and divert to military purposes.  And these are very important matters.

And some sanctions and pressures should also be removed from Iran and the Iranian nation, ultimately.  And particularly the pressures over Iranian people abroad, because of their nationality.  I think they have to get changed.  We have huge resources blocking there.  We have a longstanding sanction by the United States to impose.  So to remove that it would be a signal of goodwill.  And we hope that-- we would sit at a table of negotiations very soon, and get into the process of the big change.

Ann Curry:

You're saying you believe that there is a possibility of dialogue between Iran and the United States?  President Obama has said he's extending his hand.  Will Iran unclench its fist?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

You know, the President Obama said that, and I think the Supreme Leader in Noruse (PH) has stated and responded to this statement.  And even he has stated that if we see that there are real changes, serious changes, in the United States, you may expect changes in Iranian policy too.  That was a very positive approach.

Of course, they were just words.  And words are not just enough.  And, you know, sometimes they commit some mistakes.  Or maybe there are some intentions that while they are talking, some other would talk in another way.  And then they say that, "No, we have conditions to-- for negotiation to sit at the table."  And Iran should believe that Iran should be pushed to accept what the Americans would like to have.

There should be negotiation with no precondition at all.  Just to get to a compromis, a proper solution for both countries.  That's what we really seek.  And we should make the major steps practically.  Not just words.  Words would not serve anything.

Ann Curry:

So beyond words, what do you need to see first from President Obama?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

One is that as an Iranian citizen, as a person who is really interested in dialogue among civilizations, peace, and development of all countries around the globe, I should state, it's amazing to me to have a President of the United States with the slogan centered and focused on change.

Having Obama in office is a change itself.  A change that was asked and struggled for by the American nation.  Even the policy making authorities, the politicians, that's a big change to have Obama in office in White House.  And his motto was also change.  But there is a kind of ambiguity.  What is this change?  Is it going to be an essential change?

Of course, I don't mean that the United States should forget about its national interests.  How to serve this national interest?  How they are going to do so?  You have to see it and wait and see what is the nature of the change President Obama is claiming in practice.

And President in an American administration, is a person, though he has a very crucial role.  But there is a system in the United States, like any other country.  For sure, there are some sources of power who are against the changes President Obama wish to implement.  And they are resisting against it.

We don't know how far President Obama would be able to stand against his resistances and these obstacles.  But anyhow, I strongly believe that President Obama would be better to clear the matter, that what kind of change he is seeking.

And he should be patient enough to stand against this resistance for the change he is aiming at.  He should continue his struggle for this change.  And I think Iran and the whole world should give him enough time so to implement the change and to show what change he's talking about, and what is his point of view to change, and he would get enough time in order to overcome these obstacles that are on the way for his change.

Ann Curry:

You are struggling for change here in Iran and so that is one reason why you are backing Mr. Mousavi.  Is Mr. Mousavi the kind of man who would stop the funding for Hezbollah and Hamas?  Slow down or stop the enrichment of uranium here in Iran?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

You know, these issues that are talking about, it's because of some misunderstanding.  Sometimes misinterpretation.  We never invested to support Hamas and Hezbollah.  Of course we are supporting the resistance of the Palestinians against occupation as an ethical approach.  A moral.  It's the right of everyone to fight for his freedom.

I have stated this in in Howard University.  They asked me the same question and I responded that one of the greatest achievements of humankind that which belongs to the modern world, the Western world, is that power occupation is not the source for legitimacy.

So that's why when Adolf Hitler occupied France, the resistance of the French people is always admired by the people in history.  Hundreds of books and movies have been made on that, because occupation cannot be accepted as the source of legitimacy.  If somebody is occupying some nation's lands, millions of people would be pushed out of their homeland, even they do not have the right to go back to their home country.

So we see that something has happened against ethics, and it's against what we have achieved in the modern world.  So resistance is a value.  Even United States have seconded it.  But Hamas and Hezbollah, as the symbol of resistance against this occupation, they are supporter.

But intervention in the national affairs of the countries is not acceptable as far as I know as a president used to be during my eight years in office.  We never had such investment there, and during my time in office.  And the ones who are fighting the enemy so to get to freedom should not be called terrorists. And if some would go there and again, and say that we would terrorize these people who are resisting, they are receiving the support from some countries.  Why United States should under the pressure of some lobbies, should support one side who is posing pressure and the other side who is oppressed should be condemned as a terrorist.

So Iran does not have any kind of intervention there, but we are supporting their resistance but we do not have any intervention in their national policies.  It was never like such investment so Mousavi would be changing it.  The Palestinians should decide about their own future themselves, and we just give them some ideas that what would be the best solution.

So to have peace when Jews, Christians, and Muslims would be able to live in Palestine next to each other with great coexistence with equal citizenship rights.  And the nuclear issue, the nuclear program, we never intend, time and again.  We have stated that, time and again.  We never wish to have the nuclear bomb.  But as a member of nuclear non-proliferation treaty, we would like to have peaceful purposes of the nuclear technology.

That's our legitimate right.  We do not need anything more than this.  If you mean that we should change the plan for making a bomb, there hasn't been such a program so Mousavi would be changing it.  If there is this local approach that, okay, the world would like Iran to give them objective guarantee, I did the same and I'm sure Mr. Mousavi would do the same.

To give the objective guarantee that we would not get access to the military purposes of nuclear energy.  And what has been, I mean, the behaviors that contributed to this misunderstanding, would would never be seen during Mr. Mousavi anymore.

Ann Curry:

In your last comments you said that under Mousavi there would not be any kind of behavior that would cause for there to be a problem or increase in problems in the relations between the U.S. and Iran, if I understand you correctly.  So I guess the question I have is about do you think that Iran has been moving too quickly in its nuclear program?

Do you believe there is a real risk of confrontation between Iran and the West?  And what do you make of President Ahmadinejad's statement in recent days that a missile has been fired, which caused great alarm in the United States that this missile had traveled so far?  It was a new kind of missile that could reach Israel and parts of Europe.  When you say that Mousavi would not have this kind of-- this is the kind of behavior that is causing problems.  So what are you saying about Mr. Mousavi?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

You know, if it's based on the stances we were taking, for sure we may have more of complaints toward the Americans because during my term in office they called Iran as a member of Axis of Evil, though we were the founder of dialogue among civilizations.  And for the first time ever after the revolution, I sat down with CNN addressing the American nation, and you know, I was always aiming at détente and confidence building.  And I had the vote of more than 20 million people.

But they called us Axis of Evil.  It was not during Ahmadinejad's administration.  But, of course, I do not believe whatever has been stated by this administration was proper.  They said something which of which was of no use.  But, anyway, it should not be a good excuse for the others to say that Iran is misbehaving.

We are not threatening anyone with this missile programs.  The defense budgets in the region, if you compare it with the Iranian one, Iranian defense budget is the least, the smallest one.  Hundreds of nuclear warheads are Israel and two nuclear powers in our eastern part, India and Pakistan.  So if there is any threat, they are the threat.  And we never intended to invade anyone.  It's not our national interest.  It's not in our favor.  Why should we attack Europe?  These are just some excuses to justify their policies.

I would like to recommend, and I have always recommended, their European and American friends that your viewpoint and analysis toward Iran is not proper.  Some come.  They are hard liners.  Some will come.  They are softer in the West.  But Iran is a historical reality.

But the problem is that they look at Iran as a problem.  But the fact is that Iran is a very strong nation and a strong country, with a very particular position which is not problem.  And on the other hand, with Iran, you may solve many problems.  If they change their viewpoint toward Iran, I believe most of the matters would be resolved.

And if we go more and more toward the compromise and understanding, then they, of course, some may stand up and have some harsh statements, but it shows that we are getting closer.  Some are underneath getting closer.  And I believe that Mr. Mousavi, with very bright ideas that he has, and while he is committing himself to the national interest, he never wants tension.  He would like to remove these tensions between Iran and the other countries.  And he would be able to devise policies, very moderate one, so not to give this justification to the other countries to put pressure over Iran.

Ann Curry:

Can you understand-- of course you can.  You have such-- I can see that you are a very reasonable man.  But to understand your point, you say that the Americans don't understand the history of Iran and don't understand the situation.  And that may very well be true.

But, may I ask you, sir, with all respect, when the President of Iran says that it has a missile that is a new missile.  And we now know it is capable of reaching Israel and southern, western parts of Europe.  And this president, President Ahmadinejad, has said that there's an interest in wiping Israel off the map.  Of course, why wouldn't the West be concerned about Iran's intentions?  Forgive me for asking this question if it seems impertinent.

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

Thank you for this question.  You know, we have heard a lot of harsh words toward Iran too.  I remember during the war against Iran, the Defense Minister of the United States stated that we have to dry out the roots of the Iranian nation.  Or Israel time and again states that Iran is the enemy number one.  Even they are talking about the military invasion to Iran.

So there is this concern in Iran to-- these are words.  These words always exist.  The words are not necessarily the reality what would happen in practice.  It's not in the best interests of Iran to get engaged in the warfare with any country.

And I strongly believe that we should not talk like that to irritate the other people and motivate them.  These aren't some words that would justify the policies of other countries to put pressure over Iran, and these words should be stopped.  These statements.  We should have very wise statement and very wise action in return in future.

Ann Curry:

So you are saying-- are you saying that Mr. Mousavi would be better for U.S. relations with Iran than Mr.-- than President Ahmadinejad?  There would be fewer of these words?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

I believe Mr. Mousavi is a very wise diplomat.  A politician with with bright ideas.  He's thinking about the national interests.  He never wants tension with his administration and other countries.  And the Iranian policy, although these statements have been made very harsh, we never intend to have enemies around the world.

And in order to have a good understanding, both sides should be realistic with good hope and goodwill.  And as the Iranian nation wants the people around the world, would make steps to get closer for peace, rather than seeking enemies.  We have suffered a lot.  That's enough.  And I believe Mr. Mousavi is wise with bright ideas and he would not look for tension anymore, I believe.

Ann Curry:

After the U.S. invasion in Afghanistan, Iran, under your administration, and with the Supreme Leader's blessing, sent the Bush administration a letter offering reconciliation, including curbing Iran's nuclear program and stopping support for Hezbollah and Hamas.  The Bush administration did not answer.  Was this a lost opportunity, in your view, for the future of U.S.-Iranian relations?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

Mr. Bush responded and couple of month after the occupation of Afghanistan and toppling down Taliban, they called us Axis of Evil, instead of appreciating our goodwill and cooperation, though we had discussions and negotiations resulted in solving the problem in Afghanistan in a cheaper and faster way.

You know, the ones who were ruling Afghanistan were our enemies.  First of all, were our enemies, Taliban.  And then the enemies to the United States.  We suffered a lot as a matter of narcotics, terrorizing people in Iran.  And it was a great pleasure for us.  Saddam was our great enemy too.  In both sides they removed our enemies.  It was great.

But how they did it was not the proper method.  It could be much better than this.  In regard to Afghanistan, we were wise.  Of course, we were serving our own national interests.  We were not in favor of, and we are not in favor of, occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.  But we were seeking the solution in these two countries.  We had to compromise and cooperation.

And if we were not cooperating with the Americans, either the Americans would never get to Kabul or they had to pay a very heavy price. We were there.  We cooperated, and in fact it was achieved very easily.  So this method of goodwill were supposed to get continued.  When the Americans were going in to attack to Iraq, I proposed Mr. Kofi Annan that this same experience in Afghanistan should be repeated in Iraq.

Five security members, as well as the neighbor countries of Iraq plus Egypt, which is a very important power in our region, under the supervision of United Nations to seek and think about the future of Iraq.  But President Bush was very proud.  He thought that he doesn't need anyone else's help and assistance, but we could help.

Without this huge losses to the Americans to Iraq, and Iraq is now the center for contagious diseases of terrorism.  Thousands of American children have died innocently there.  Terrorism is even reinforced there.  We could find other solutions and remove Saddam at the same time with less price and more understanding.

We gave this idea to the United Nations for Iraq.  But, you know, United States is not in a position to tell us what shall we do in Iran.  They condemn us first.  And then they say that you should stop this and then that will be the precondition to negotiate.  We are not supporting terrorists.  Hamas and Hezbollah is not terrorists, the groups to our own point of view.

That I don't say that whatever they do may be justified as a right action.  Yes, anyone, any group, may commit something which is not acceptable for sure.  But they say that I would terrorize the ones who are against me.  That's what Israelis say.  If we would like to condemn terrorist acts, we should condemn all sort of it.

But if we have the goodwill, then we may have a realistic approach to a Palestine issue with regard to Iraq and Afghanistan.  And get to conclusions that would be serving the national interests of these countries, as well as our national interests and the Americans.

And, but if we just concentrate and focus our own national interests, then devising force and military might, we would face such a thing that the Americans are facing in Afghanistan and Iraq.  That heavy price they are paying for this easy solution.  You know that we are on the same ship, on the same planet, so we have to work with each other in perfect coexistence.  And-- we should-- revise our viewpoints and many problems would be solved.

Ann Curry:

You've just said that while you support-- Iran supports the ideas of what Hamas and Hezbollah are doing for the people in these regions, you do not necessarily support-- Iran does not necessarily support everything.  So what I'm-- and you said many other things.  I understand that.

But on that point, clearly what seems to be the problem is that the United States does not trust that Iran is not funding Hamas and Hezbollah.  You say Iran is not funding Hamas and Hezbollah.  How can you prove that you are not funding Hamas and Hezbollah?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

I don't know.  If the United States has decided to say something and have it as a base of their policy, we cannot convince them to forget about this policy.  Should have a logical approach to bring each other up to a point to look at the matter in realistic approach.

If without any condition we would be able to sit and talk and negotiate and give this guarantee, Americans would give this guarantee in confidence that they would not follow up the wrong policies they used to.  And Iran, in return, would also give this confidence that we are not fighting against the national interests of the United States.

And we are serving our own national interests, while we do not perceive United States as an enemy.  Then we may get to many good solutions, and I think we should have the goodwill and wise approach.  Then, at the table of negotiation, many of these problems for sure would be solved.

Ann Curry:

And on the other major point, the other major point being the U.S. concerns about Iran's enrichment of uranium, what will it take?  Will Iran ever stop enriching uranium?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

Why we should stop the enrichment?  Of course it's under very primary level yet.  We just have a hand at the technology.  During my term in office we got it.  Of course, it's a bit expanded now but just to have 1,000 megawatt of reactor, enough fuel for that, we are doing this technology.

Of course, it's still, we are years away from the proper enrichment level.  But what is important for the others is that, and that's their concern, that we may have access to industrial level of uranium enrichment.  That is the concern.  So to go to weapon grade uranium and reach that much, that would be the wise for a nuclear weapon.

And, you know, even the bomb technology would take years.  Even if we would have this intention, which we do never have this intention, for years to come we have to work.  And in eight years of administration, my administration, you know, I know that the Supreme Leader's viewpoints and the national interests of Iran.

Clearly I state that in our political victory, there is no point and place for nuclear weapon.  We just need three and a half percent enriched uranium for the reactors' fields, so to produce electricity.  That's our legitimate right.  But I believe that now that we have this technology, and they have accepted that it's our legitimate right, about to get into the industrial level of enrichment we may get to s solution that Iran would have enrichment and, at the same time, give the objective guarantee to the other countries that we were never have the diversion to the atomic bomb technology.

With the Europeans, informally, we got to this conclusion during my term in office.  Many things were solved.  But the Americans were not fast enough to make their decisions so it is now in the position that we are witnessing now.  If there is the goodwill revived as it used to be, Iran would get to the legitimate right of enriching uranium for peaceful purposes under the supervision.  And that's our right.

And then the world, the whole world, would get the objective guarantee that there wouldn't be any diversion from the peaceful purposes, and Iran would never go to produce nuclear bombs.  And then we would go to a point that in future we are looking forward to have a nuclear free zone in the Middle East.

That's what we are seeking.  First of all, we have to think about the nuclear arsenals existing now.  What Mr. Obama said, and it was really great, is that the United States is the arsenal of the nuclear weapons.  And up to the moment that we have these bombs, how should we dare asking the others to get rid of their technology.  Of course, WMD is a great concern for all of us.  In United Nations, it has been accepted, as we proposed, that we should start a nuclear free zones from Middle East, because we are full of tension.  And to get rid of these arsenals.

Ann Curry:

So the answer-- I understand what you said and-- but the answer then about whether Iran would ever stop enriching uranium, even if it meant peace with the West, it sounds as though-- so your answer is no?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

What we have discussed, and we got to the conclusion, is that Iran has the legitimate right for enrichment.  But Iran should give objective guarantee that it would not be diverted to military purposes.  So one is not dependent on the other.

Objective guarantee doesn't mean that we should stop enrichment.  There should be measures under international supervisions.  Even the other countries may come, and supervise physically, that the enriched uranium would never be diverted to weapon grade.  All these would be discussed at the negotiation table.

Even to stop enrichment, you know, you should never say that that's the precondition to negotiation.  While they are negotiating, they can talk about how to stop this enrichment.  If there are goodwills for both sides, then we are, I'm quite optimistic that we would be wise enough to resolve the situation from a wise approach.

Ann Curry:

So what is your message then? What is your message to President Obama today?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

One message is that really, President Obama should be decisive and serious to make the change he is intending to.  And I would like to restate this. That United States is a big, important country with great people.  A great nation.  The most developed country, and the world is really taking advantage of the technology they are making.

This huge power should be serving peace and stability and promotion of the human kind, not to stand against some countries and threatening their national interests.  After the Second World War, two problems existed mentally in the United States policies.  One was that hehe felt like a big brother to the European countries.  Now he should turn into an equal brother to them.  Everyone.

And after the Second World War there was this misunderstanding in the politicians of the United States toward the Third World country, that they are the superior and we are the inferior.  We should turn into friends, then the Americans would be able to serve the national interests here and there.  There wouldn't be any security threat.

Because of the nations who have been humiliated, Americans would feel threat from these nations.  These nations would like to stand up against this humiliation.  If this change is happening, I believe that many of these problems will be solved.

And secondly, he should be patient enough.  He should be standing strong against the obstacles and pressures against the pressure he is intending to realize.  Some lobbies are against him, I feel.  They are seeking their own interests rather than the American interest.  He should be standing against these pressures.  He should feel serious to make this change possible, and to be courageous to implement his change and to be patient and resilient, and not to get disappointed.  He should go all the way ahead to make it possible.  It would serve Obama, United States and the whole world.

Ann Curry:

You're saying-- the pressure you're talking about is Israel.

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

Of course, the Zionist lobby is very strong in the United States.  And United States and American nation have the right to defend their own interests.  But it's not, I believe, in their best interests to victimize and to slaughter the national interests for this small minority of lobby there.

Ann Curry:

The youth account for 65 percent of Iran's population and yet they're very unhappy, as you now head to your presidential elections, about restrictions on their freedoms and also was the economy.  Is reform in Iran possible when the most powerful body, the Supreme Leader, is in place under no election?  Was put into power without any election?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

Supreme Leader is selected, of course, in a two rounds of election.  And, you know, we have Expediency Council.  They would select the leader.  They would supervise the leader.  And he is not a full fledged power with no supervision.

He has indirect vote of the people and he is also deciding about the major policies of the regime in Iran.  And you see that he is respecting freedom.  Clearly it has been stated, you know, constitution too.  Of course there are some problems in restrictions on freedom.

And the wrong approaches that sometimes they say, "Security is in peril so they are restricting freedom."  This is wrong.  And when you are restricting and limiting freedom, it would threaten the security.  Because if the youth are not satisfied finally, they would threat the security of the society and the government if they are getting disappointed or they are getting angry.  Freedom is the base and principle of stability and security.  I have talked to the youth and they have accepted it.  And as far as I could, I implemented it.  Of course, the president has not a very unlimited power.  There are some others who would decide and limit this freedom.

But the picture that is shown from Iran is not the right one.  And it doesn't mean that everyone would feel that they are on the restrictions.  And there are some restrictions and limitations.  They have to be removed, these limitations.  And the future administration, one of its first priorities should be promoting the citizenship rights, human rights, and the freedom of the people.

And in the principles of Mr. Karroubi and Mr. Mousavi.  Both candidates have emphasized on these that they would fight for this freedom.  They would realize this freedom.  And we hope that the changes that may occur by this election we would feel a better freedom for the youth and the whole nation in future.

Ann Curry:

The reason I ask is because it's clear in talking to many of the young people, their great wish as you talk about, for the reforms, you won in a landslide on a campaign for reforms.  With all due respect, sir, on this question, did you in your presidency fail 70 percent of your people?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

No.  Of course, I don't believe that I realized whatever they wanted, but actually, you know, part of this were the intentions the thing that they wanted was not realistic.  It was not in my power to realize them.  I'm not a full-fledged president.  Nobody is a full-fledged president here.  We are working in the framework of the constitution and the separation of power.

And on the other hand, the accommodations and facilities and lots of problems they cause for my government.  Of course they had some emotional things to achieve.  They wanted to get that in one night and achieve everything very soon.  But we made major steps toward that.  Too many of them were not realized.

But of course, I admit that what was achieved was much less than what I intended to have and what people were asking for.  But, you know, I had very limited resources, many obstacles on the way.  But I did my best to move to that point.  And people appreciated what I did.  And they accepted that I had problems and not enough resources.  I hope that in future we would go again on this path of reforms.

Ann Curry:

You asked the Supreme Leader if you could shake President Clinton's hand and you were turned down.  Should you have shaken President Clinton's hand?  Should Mousavi shake President Obama's hand if he is elected president?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

You know, shaking hands would not be very important decision or any important gesture. The important thing was that me and President Clinton were really seriously looking for change.  But both of us were facing many challenges and problems and obstacles.  Those obstacles failed us.  These obstacles were more successful than me and Clinton.

During President Clinton in office, some strategic mistakes have been committed.  Although he never intended to have such intentions to do so.  Supreme Leader clearly stated that we are not against relationship and negotiation with the Americans.

But the matter is that there shouldn't be one point superior and the other side inferior.  So there should be free talks.  Equal positions.  To talk about problems.  To talk about the shortcomings we both have and then get to our national interests and the best of interests of our own nation.  I think we have to change.  And I think that the preparedness that we have now is much better.  The preparedness Iran had in those days.  And I think and I hope that both sides would take advantage of this opportunity.

Ann Curry:

I know you're out of time, so I am going to only ask you one more question, but it's a very important question.  And I hope you have time for this question.  Many people in America and people throughout the world have been offended by President Ahmadinejad's questioning about whether the Holocaust ever happened.  You are are a respected Iranian leader.  Are-- will you acknowledge that the Holocaust occurred?

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

Clearly, I have stated that Holocaust was a great disaster, a human disaster. But this Holocaust happened in Europe by Nazis.  German Nazis and the fascists.  And it was not just the Jews as the victim.  Many others were slaughtered in this huge disaster, this terrible thing that happened in our history, which is a shame.

And we should not say that we are defending Nazis and fascists, denying it.  Why anti-Semitism is a Western phenomenon.  It doesn't come from the East or the Middle East.  For centuries, they were living next to each other.  Jews, Christians, Muslims.  In Iran, for instance, for centuries.  So anti-Semitism and Holocaust, these terrible things happened in the West.  It was a huge crime against humanity.

But, we should not pay the price in Palestine.  The Palestinians should not pay the price.  The ones who have caused this great crime against humanity should pay the price.  And and we should not have new holocausts anywhere else.  I strongly believe that the politicians should talk in a way that would not bear huge pressure over their nations.

They should have wise words.  Of course, in the other countries they have, you know, some bad words towards Iran too.  That Iran is Axis of Evil and we have to dry out Iranian nation's roots.  But, you know, some are against the Iranian policies and they are imposing a lot of pressure over Iranian citizens in other countries.  Humiliation and taking it hard on citizens of any country should not be acceptable.  And we should respect Iranians, whatever they are.  And I am defending this.

Ann Curry:

I am going to expect that you have run out of time.  I can see that this is the last, so I am not going to ask any more questions.  But I want to thank you very much for this time.  And I know you are very busy.  You are a very wise and thoughtful man.  Thank you for your time, sir.  It was my honor.

Former President Mohammad Khatami:

I would ask you also thank and appreciate, and from here, I give my best of regards to American nation.

Ann Curry:

Thank you so much.  I will pass that along.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Well, I'm very glad.  Thank you for speaking to me.

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