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: and NBC News
updated 9/16/2010 12:18:06 PM ET 2010-09-16T16:18:06

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says there is no hate between Muslims and Americans despite an apparent escalation in tensions fueled by controversies over a proposed mosque near ground zero in New York and a plan by a Florida pastor to burn Qurans.

"People (in Islamic countries) are against that ugly behavior," he said in an exclusive interview with NBC News' Andrea Mitchell. "They are not against the people of the United States. They are not against Americans, they are not against Jews. They are not against Christians or Christianity."

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.

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Although that church backed down, several copycat burnings were posted on the Internet and broadcast in the Muslim world. 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 that has drawn sharp opposition across the United States.

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

In the interview with Mitchell in Iran, Ahmadinejad on Wednesday denounced what he described as a "minority" in the United States seeking to foster hostility with other nations.

"Their interests lie in creating wars and conflicts," he said. "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."

Yet Ahmadinejad also spoke out generally against U.S. policy to Iran since the 1979 revolution that overthrew the country's monarchy. Since then, the two nations have had no official relationship, a divide widened amid concerns about Iran's nuclear program and its human rights record.

Story: Ahmadinejad: Iran justified in barring nuclear inspectors
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And he accused "Zionists" of preventing Obama from improving relations with Iran.

"We think maybe President Obama wants to do something, but there are pressures — pressure groups in the United States who do not allow him to do so," he said.

Yet Ahmadinejad was also adamant that he would not yield to pressure from the United States over what he maintains is a peaceful nuclear program, which has aggravated tensions and led to multiple Security Council sanctions.

Story: Ahmadinejad: Judge should decide fate of hikers

"Our nation does not need the United States whatsoever," he said, rebuffing the idea that his people are suffering under the sanctions, which limit commercial and financial exchanges.  "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."

At the meeting next week of the U.N. General Assembly, Ahmadinejad said he would again reiterate its position that Iran's nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

"Iran is against the development of a nuclear bomb," he said. "We also asked for a global nuclear disarmament."

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Photos: Iran’s perilous path

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  1. 1921 to 1979: Iran's last monarchs

    After World War I, Reza Khan, a military officer riding a wave of nationalism and backed by Britain, seizes power from King Ahmad Shah. Reza Khan, shown here, is crowned Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1926 and initiates reforms easing social restrictions on women, building the Trans-Iranian Railway and shoring up the nation's finances. The country also drops the name Persia in favor of the local name Iran. His son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, succeeds him as shah in 1941, and continues his efforts to modernize the country. (General Photographic Agency / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 1941 to 1970s: Our man in Iran

    Succeeding his father, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, here with his third wife, Farah Pahlavi, and their two children, intensifies modernization efforts. But economic turbulence, Cold War politics and disaffection among religious clerics also increase. With backing from the United States, the shah launches a massive industrial and military buildup. But corruption, inflation and a growing disparity in wealth fuel discontent. At the same time, the shah's increasingly dictatorial style and the brutal tactics of his secret police intensify resentment toward the government and spark protests. (James Andanson / Sygma - Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 1978: Backlash

    Conservative religious leaders begin a protest movement aimed at the elite. The movement spreads and evolves into violent attacks on the shah's regime and Western culture. The movement is further radicalized on Black Friday, Sept. 8, when government troops fire into a crowd of demonstrators and kill scores. Demands for a democratic Islamic state grow. Movement leaders call for the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a religious and political radical exiled in Paris. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 1979: Khomeini triumphs

    The shah, announcing a brief vacation, leaves Iran and hands over governance to a moderate party, sparking celebrations throughout the country. Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Tehran from Paris to a rapturous welcome from millions of Iranians. Within weeks, his movement topples the new government. Although he talked about democracy while he was in exile, Khomeini establishes a strict theocracy led by Muslim clerics. "Revolutionary courts" mete out summary justice to former officials and pass measures to nationalize much of the economy. The Islamic Republic of Iran is established on April 1. (Campion / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Nov. 1979 to Jan. 1981: Hostage crisis

    Iranian students occupy the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and take 66 Americans hostage. They demand the extradition of the shah, who is in the U.S. for cancer treatment. U.S. President Carter orders banks to freeze billions in Iranian assets. In April 1980, the U.S. secretly lands troops in Iran to rescue the hostages. The mission ends in disaster after a helicopter and a transport aircraft collide, killing eight U.S. soldiers. The hostages are finally freed, but the failed rescue effort damages Carter's re-election bid and the crisis mars U.S. attitudes toward Iran for decades. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 1980 to 1988: Iran-Iraq War

    Iraq invades Iran following border skirmishes and amid a dispute over a key waterway, beginning a bloody eight-year war. Washington and Moscow vow to halt arms sales to Iran and Iraq. But officials in U.S. President Ronald Reagan's administration orchestrate secret arms sales to Tehran, in part to fund anti-communist guerrillas in Nicaragua. This scandal becomes known as the Iran-Contra affair. In 1988, Iran accepts a cease-fire with Iraq. Estimates of the number of war dead range up to 1.5 million, and both sides keep thousands of prisoners of war. A final exchange of POWs occurs in 2003. (Henri Bureau / Sygma - Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 1988: Tragic mistake

    The U.S. cruiser Vincennes shoots down an Iranian Airbus airliner in the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people. Naval authorities say the crew of the Vincennes, part of a force escorting oil tankers in the area, mistook the airliner for an attacking Iranian F-14 fighter, and U.S. investigators clear the ship's officers. The incident draws vows of revenge from Iranian extremists and condemnation from moderates. Here, Iranians view caskets of the Iranian dead. (Irna / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 1989 After the ayatollah

    The death of Ayatollah Khomeini's opened the way for gradual moderation in Iran's domestic and foreign policies. Shown here is the frenzied mourning that accompanied the ayatollah's funeral procession, during which the crowd broke open the casket. President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a wealthy businessman who also has political and religious connections, leads the country for nearly a decade. He introduces economic reforms, but maintains Iran's distance from the West. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. 1997 to 2005: Fight for reform

    In 1997, Mohammad Khatami, shown on posters, is overwhelmingly elected president with strong support from young people and women. He makes symbolic changes, such as naming the first woman to a Cabinet position since 1979. U.S.-Iranian tensions begin to wane and Washington eases some sanctions and restrictions on Iran, trying to bolster reformers. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on U.S. targets, Iran vows to aid in the war on terror. Khatami wins a second term in 2001, but his presidency is marked by a difficult struggle with religious conservatives. (Mohammad Sayyad / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 2001 to 2002: Mood swing

    As Iranian moderates and conservative Islamists struggle for political supremacy, the administration of newly elected U.S. President George W.Bush takes a harder line toward Tehran. Skeptical of the prospects for gradual reform in Iran, the White House releases statements urging Iranians to change their government. Then, in January 2002, President Bush brands Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil," claiming that all three are pursuing weapons of mass destruction and exporting terror. The U.S. posture sparks a backlash on the streets of Iran, bolstering nationalism and undermining the progress of moderates. (Martin H. Simon / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. 2002 to 2009: Nuclear showdown

    Suspicions surface about Iran's nuclear program. Tehran insists it is a purely civilian pursuit, but satellite images and other intelligence suggest it also is pursuing nuclear weapons. EU negotiators press for more extensive inspections of Iran's facilities in return for economic and political perks, but they encounter growing Iranian intransigence. In 2005, hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assumes the Iranian presidency and vows irreversible resumption of uranium enrichment. Negotiations falter, prompting the U.N. Security Council in late 2006 to approve targeted sanctions against Iran. (Emamifars / Abaca) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. 2009: Tension with hints of reconciliation

    U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the issue of Iran in his first primetime news conference, saying it’s important to engage in “direct diplomacy.” But tensions still run high between Tehran and Washington. Iranian students tear up a picture of the president-elect on his inauguration day. Yet there are hints of a more conciliatory attitude from Iran’s government, with Ahmadinejad telling a rally that his country is ready for dialogue, provided talks are based on mutual respect. (Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. June 2009: Challenger emerges

    Former Iranian prime minister and presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi greets supporters during a campaign rally at Enghelab stadium, west of Tehran, on June 6. Mousavi, a moderate, emerged as the main challenger to hardline Ahmadinejad, who sought a second term in office. (Farzaneh Khademian / Abaca) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. June 2009: Victory for Ahmadinejad?

    Thousands of supporters of Ahmadinejad wave flags during a massive rally on June 14 after the government said he won re-election. (Atta Kenare / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. June 2009: Turmoil in Tehran

    Tens of thousands of supporters of opposition candidate Mousavi stage days of demonstrations. Islamic leaders promise a limited recount after five days of protests. Authorities ban foreign news reporting from the streets, making it difficult for Western media to confirm many reports, including attacks on demonstrators by a state-backed militia. Here, protesters carry the body of a man allegedly shot by the militia on June 15. (Str / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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