Image: NBC's Andrea Mitchell interviews Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Nightly News/NBC News
NBC's Andrea Mitchell interviews Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday.
NBC News
updated 9/16/2010 3:47:30 AM ET 2010-09-16T07:47:30

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told NBC News on Wednesday that his country was justified in barring further visits by U.N. atomic inspectors and challenged other nations to fully disclose their nuclear activities.

He also rebuffed the threat of new sanctions: "Our nation does not need the United States whatsoever," he told NBC's Andrea Mitchell in Tehran. "Even if the U.S. administration increases the sanctions and — 100 times more, and even the Europeans join the United States to impose heavier sanctions, we in Iran are in a position to meet our own requirements."

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Iran has already allowed the inspectors several visits and other western nuclear powers should allow the same kind of access to their facilities, Ahmadinejad said in a wide-ranging exclusive interview that included comments on the recent release of American Sarah Shourd from a Tehran prison. "We have gone beyond the law, and we have cooperated with them," he said.

Ahmadinejad gave the interview a week before he is scheduled to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York where Iran's nuclear program is likely to come under further scrutiny.

Story: Transcript: U.S. has 'hostility against our people,' Ahmadinejad says

Earlier Wednesday, Western powers accused Iran of trying to intimidate the U.N. atomic agency by barring some inspectors, with the United States warning the Islamic state of possible diplomatic consequences.

Story: Ahmadinejad: Muslims 'are not against Americans, Jews, Christians'

Iran, which has maintained that its nuclear program is aimed only at generating electricity, has said two inspectors it banned in June had provided false information about its activities.

During the interview Wednesday with NBC, Ahmadinejad denied his nation was being uncooperative and said the International Atomic Energy Agency should instead focus its attention on Israel, which he named only as an illegal "Zionist regime."

Israel, widely assumed to be the only Middle East country to have nuclear weapons, has grown increasingly nervous over the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran and has hinted that it might make a pre-emptive military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities to prevent this from happening.

"They possess nuclear weapons, and they constantly threaten their neighbors," Ahmadinejad  said. "And in the past year, they threatened Iran more than 10 times." 

Ahmadinejad said he was unconcerned about growing pressure from the United Nations, the United States and European governments over the inspection controversy.

Earlier, United States, Britain and France on Wednesday were joined by Russia and China, which have close ties to Iran, in calling on the government in Tehran to return to negotiations on its nuclear program.

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China's deputy U.N. ambassador Wang Ming said, without elaborating, that "at present new opportunities have emerged for restarting dialogue."

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice pointed to "clear evidence that Iran is refusing to take any step to begin resolving concerns that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons — and continues actions that in fact deepen these concerns."

Cultural tensions
When asked about the apparent escalation of tensions between Muslims and Americans in recent weeks, Ahmadinejad said there was "no conflict between the two cultures."

Protests erupted around the world denouncing the United States after a small Florida church had threatened to burn the Quran on the Sept. 11 anniversary, marking the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers in New York.

Although that church backed down, video of several copycat burnings were posted on the Internet and broadcast in the Muslim world, sparking outrage and violence. The controversy around the Quran burning has been heightened amid plans to build a Islamic cultural center and mosque near the World Trade Center site, a proposal which has drawn sharp opposition across the United States.

Story: Ahmadinejad: Judge should decide fate of hikers

Ahmadinejad on Wednesday blamed a small minority in the United States for fueling the rising anger between Muslims and Americans.

"Their interests lie in creating wars and conflicts," he said of that minority. "Quran is a heavenly book, a divine book. That was an ugly thing, to burn a holy book. That is a desecration to billions of believers and people in the world."

Mideast peace
In response to questions from Mitchell on the ongoing Middle East peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Ahmadinejad discounted the meetings.

Earlier this month, he said that the Mideast peace process was bound to fail and criticized some Muslim leaders for not providing all-out support to the Palestinians in their revolt against Israel.

"Let them talk," he said Wednesday. "But we think that this is not the solution to the Palestinian issue."

He said the Palestinian officials negotiating with Israel did not represent the Palestinian people.

The Palestinian government is divided, with President Mahmoud Abbas leading the Palestinian National Authority from the West Bank and Hamas controlling the Gaza Strip. Abbas is leading the negotiations with Israel, which Hamas rejects.

Ahead of his travels next week to the U.N. General Assembly, Ahmadinejad reiterated Iran's stance that it supports only a peaceful nuclear program.

"We have repeatedly expressed our position, and also our position that Iran is against the development of a nuclear bomb," he said.

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Video: Ahmadinejad: ‘Zionists’ roiling Islamic center

  1. Transcript of: Ahmadinejad: ‘Zionists’ roiling Islamic center

    MATT LAUER, co-host: Now to Iran and an NBC News exclusive. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is speaking out about the release of American hiker Sarah Shourd and the fate of her two companions who are still being jailed in that country. NBC 's chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell sat down with him on Wednesday. She's in Tehran with the latest on this. Andrea , good morning to you.

    ANDREA MITCHELL reporting: Well, good morning, Matt. The -- Iran 's president pressed hard for the release of Sarah Shourd partly as a gesture to America just before he travels to New York for next week's UN meetings. But on all other subjects he was confrontational.

    MITCHELL: Thank you, Mr. President. Iran 's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is taking credit for Sarah Shourd 's release, but said the fate of her fiance, Shane Bauer , and their friend, Josh Fattal , both still in jail, is not up to him.

    President MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: I think we should let the judge and the courts decide about the case and I think that this is the greatest help to all of them.

    MITCHELL: One suggestion from the State Department spokesman on Twitter , he tweeted that you could take the two men on your airplane to New York when you go to the United Nations . What's your response to that?

    Pres. AHMADINEJAD: That was a good proposal. If they had not violated our border, they would have been at their homes for over a year, for one -- for more than a year.

    MITCHELL: Iran's government has been encouraging protests in Tehran , trying to exploit anger against the US because of threats to burn the Quran and the controversy over the proposed Islamic cultural center near ground zero. President Ahmadinejad , who has denied the Holocaust , blames all this on what he calls a Zionist conspiracy.

    Pres. AHMADINEJAD: We believe that there's a minority in the United States and they are Zionists . They have no religion. They believe in no religion.

    MITCHELL: There are Jewish leaders working with Muslim leaders to build the cultural center in New York City . So there's no evidence of any elite, what you call Zionist groups against it. In fact, Fidel Castro ...

    Pres. AHMADINEJAD: That's certainly right.

    MITCHELL: ... Fidel Castro , your old friend, Fidel Castro , criticized you for your comments about Israel and the Holocaust .

    Pres. AHMADINEJAD: I think you should allow me to talk, to speak.

    MITCHELL: Excuse me.

    Pres. AHMADINEJAD: I think you should finish first and then you should let me explain.

    MITCHELL: Speak.

    Pres. AHMADINEJAD: What you see in Islam -- Islamic countries is what the people are against, that ugly behavior. They are not against the people of the United States . They are not against Americans.

    MITCHELL: We see no evidence that there is any such Zionist conspiracy. President Ahmadinejad was equally combative about the UN 's nuclear agency, the IAEA , which sharply rebuked Iran this week for denying access to the two leading experts on the weapons inspection team.

    Pres. AHMADINEJAD: But they are under the pressures of the United States and the allies and they expressed political views. So this is not a technical approach, a illegal approach towards the question. And it is part of the hostility of the United States against our people.

    MITCHELL: With all due respect, Mr. President, if there's nothing to hide, if this is a peaceful nuclear program , as Iran says, why not let all the inspectors who know the scientific and technical details -- so why not let them in if it's a peaceful program?

    Pres. AHMADINEJAD: Can't they go beyond the law? We say that it is against the procedures and we have evidence and the evidence is there, in the IAEA .

    MITCHELL: So Iran 's president is showing no sign of compromise on that nuclear standoff, even as he heads to the United Nations , and the world powers

    unite against him. Matt: All right, Andrea Mitchell in Tehran for us this morning. Andrea , thanks very much, as always. It's 7:09. Once again, here's Meredith .

    LAUER:

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