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Chuck Todd’s Exclusive With Iranian President Rouhani

Full Interview: Chuck Todd's Exclusive With Iranian President Rouhani 30:47

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. President, thank you for your time. I appreciate it. Let me start with your interpretation of the deal, the nuclear deal. In January you called it a golden page in Iran’s history, opening new windows for engagement around the world. The president, President Obama yesterday said that it was an important-- hailed it as a big victory for diplomacy. But your government is now arguing that the U.S. is not living up to the deal. What specifically is the U.S. not doing, in your view, on this deal?

ROUHANI:

In my opinion, the JCPOA issue is of utmost importance for the success of political activity throughout today's world. Perhaps in the last few decades for the first time, it has taken place in such a fashion that a very complex, international issue, through dialogue, has reached ultimate success in the form of the agreement. Now, for this success, all of the seven countries involved worked quite hard in order to realize it. And vis-à-vis the JCPOA, it is in Iran's view supervised by an international body which is the International Atomic Energy Agency.

And according to that organization's report, Iran has lived up to all of its commitments. I really do believe that this has been a historic test for all of us to measure how we keep to our commitments, to the commitments announced. How we have implemented those, how we have put those into action, or not. And, according to the admission of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Five Plus One countries, Iran has lived up to its commitments fully.

However, the other side, unfortunately, the United States regarding some issues, has stayed back or it has actually gone against the agreement and the commitment. So within the JCPOA, it is contained that all nations involved in this agreement must free the path, pave the way for resumption of normal activities with the Islamic Republic of Iran, such as banking transactions, insurance transactions, and the likes.

All of the obstacles must be removed according to the letter of the JCPOA. Now, the Treasury Department of the United States, instead of encouraging countries and nations and financial institutions to resume relationships with Iran, it has taken a threatening tone. And it is out of that fear of being the target of the Treasury Department of the United States that has given serious doubts to many of these financial international institutions.

And this is a serious breach on behalf of the United States of America that must be alleviated, that must be corrected. And as all folks are quite aware, that in the framework of international agreement, if one side fails to live up to its commitment, then that means that commitment, that agreement cannot be sustainable in the future.

CHUCK TODD:

Is it possible this is a misunderstanding of the agreement? That-- because on the specifics of the nuclear agreement, the specific sanctions that involve the development of potential nuclear weapons, all of those obstacles have been removed. You have the approval of the license, in fact today, license for transactions having to do with airplanes, both in parts and in actual airplanes both for Boeing and Airbus that is coming along. But there are separate sanctions on development of ballistic missiles. Are there some in your country that believed all of those sanctions would be eliminated and just misinterpreted the deal?

ROUHANI:

No. There is a part specifically which speaks of multi-use goods. And a specific commission has been brought into the framework of the JCPOA agreement, through which any grievances would be addressed. However, what we're talking about is that international big financial institutions, banks who wish to cooperate and collaborate financially in expansion of ports, of infrastructure expansion and building, acquisition of airplanes for civil aviation, they have become very doubtful.

So the United States, instead of encouraging these financial institutions, use multi-pronged words that are actually bringing fear to the heart of these banks, eliminating altogether the collaboration with Iran. And some banks actually prefer not to have any cooperation with Iran. The other breach of the agreement on the side of the United States, it has been brought into the JCPOA that airplanes intended for civil aviation only must be freely sold to Iran.

Now, eight months have passed since the start of the JCPOA. During these eight months, the United States up to today has yet to issue these licenses for the acquisition of airplanes for civil aviation. And there are talks as recent as yesterday that the United States has agreed on some of the points that we just spoke of. Even if the United States were to fully issue those licenses we spoke of today, it is still quite in breach of the contract considering the eight months it has taken it to do so.

CHUCK TODD:

One of the issues that some international banks may be, one of the reasons that some of these international banks may be hesitant to do business with Iran, appears to be the role of the Revolutionary Guard in Iran’s economy, and of course that’s also tied into the ballistic missile sanctions that also are a part of this. Is there a way that Iran could diminish the role of the Guard in the economy that would then-- that you think would make international banks more comfortable to do business?

ROUHANI:

Companies-- Various companies do exist in Iran, the shares of some of which belong to business entities who may be having certain ties with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. But keep in mind those companies are strictly involved in business transactions and endeavors. A lot of major store affairs and highways and infrastructures and ports are being built and have been built in Iran throughout Iran by these very companies.

Even in the field of development of oil and gas, those same companies are the ones who bring to bear their services. Now, the issue is in normal economic activity, such as port building, infrastructure, commercial infrastructure building, development of oil and gas, expansion of freeways and thoroughfares, those have nothing to do with military purposes. Any company can have shares that belong to any entity. But pressure on banks, vis-à-vis their dealings with Iran, is certainly against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Agreement.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me just ask a big picture question. Are you still hopeful that this agreement is going to hold?

ROUHANI:

All of us, we must strive and work very hard for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to hold because all of the hard work brought to bear by these seven countries for years, marathon sessions held by these countries for months at a time, weeks at a time. But if we cannot make it last, then that would mean that political activity, diplomatic activity, is unsuccessful.

Now, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action can become a roadmap, an example to refer to upon which other international conflicts can be based. In other words, to resolve those issues through dialogue and diplomacy rather than conflict. So a breaking down of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action would be a defeat for all sides involved. Would be a defeat for the international community. Would be a defeat for diplomacy. No one would come out victorious from this defeat. So we must all bring our utmost to bear for its success.

CHUCK TODD:

As you are aware, there are critics of the deal in the United States, and there are critics of the deal in Iran. That’s not a surprise. But one of the concerns among critics of the deal in the United States is that the idea that in 8 years from now, when the deal expires, that Iran will be free to pursue a nuclear weapons program. And there is concern among these critics, which may be why they want to do whatever it takes to slow it down, or to delay, or to make this harder. That there is a concern that in 8 years that all of a sudden Iran will pursue a nuclear weapons program. How can you reassure these skeptics in the United States that that’s not the case?

ROUHANI:

Vis-à-vis all of the countries in order for them to remain on the peaceful path of nuclear activity, there is an international organization that has been created, has been in existence for quite some time, which is the International Atomic Energy Agency. And this agency supervises the peaceful and civilian purposes only nuclear activity of its member countries.

And in order for this system of supervision and verification to be successful and sustainable, additional protocols and safeguards have been put in place, to which Iran has committed. So in other words, Iran is implementing not only the additional protocols, but the safeguards as well. And anyone who has read these too knows full well and understands full well that anyone that signs, that is a signatory to those, will over the long-term maintain nothing but peaceful nuclear activity.

Furthermore, within the doctrine or within the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran to include the fatwa issued by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, that the building or pursuing or obtaining and using any type of weapons of mass destruction are strictly and unequivocally forbidden by Islamic law.

CHUCK TODD:

Should there be any concern, though, that there are reports that there is a missile defense system at Fordow, for instance that was purchased from the Russians? That there’s a Russian missile defense system -- should that be of concern, that you’re putting a defense system around a peaceful nuclear facility?

ROUHANI:

Well, Fordow is one of the nuclear centers that is being supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency, just like all of the nuclear activities of the Islamic Republic of Iran throughout the country that are being supervised by the agency. But we do have enemies throughout the region who may have ill intentions towards us.

And, of course, we must be ready to defend ourselves. We must not forget that we're a country who sustained the brunt of an imposed war by Saddam Hussein for eight years. So we learned in result of that war, that we must be solely responsible and rely solely upon ourselves to defend ourselves. No one helped our country during those eight years of imposed illegal war. But everyone got in line to help Saddam Hussein.

CHUCK TODD:

So nobody-- so you don’t think you would tell any skeptics of the deal in the United States that the extra security does not mean that Iran is trying to protect that facility to eventually develop weapons?

ROUHANI:

Well, in any fashion, when one looks at the history of Iran, Iran has always maintained her commitment to any agreement it has become a signatory of. You will not find any instances during the past 38 years of the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran in which a bilateral agreement or an international agreement has been signed and Iran has broken its commitment.

So Iran has a very good report card vis-à-vis her commitments and agreements. Also, let it be said that nuclear weapons would not be beneficial to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Islamic Republic of Iran has never sought nuclear weapons. What we were accused of for years called possible military dimensions, the International Atomic Energy Agency eventually reached the conclusion that that file must be closed for good and announced that the activities of Iran were solely for peaceful purposes.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, let’s move onto Syria. Big discussion today at the United Nations. The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, believes that Russia was behind the-- and it may have been on purpose or not, that's an open question-- but that Russia was behind the bombing of the humanitarian, United Nations humanitarian convoy. What can you tell us about that incident and what do you believe?

ROUHANI:

Well, the United States a few years-- a few days before, committed a very dangerous act which was to, in the Deir el-Zour region of Syria, bomb a Syrian army installation under conditions at that specific time that there were clashes going on between the terrorists-- the Daesh terrorists and the Syrian army. So that meant a direct defense of the Daesh terrorist group.

And to go back another couple of days in another region of Syria, Israel conducted aerial bombings of other Syrian installations. So it has become increasingly possible that this does happen. But we must all bring to bear our best efforts in order to have a sustained ceasefire in Syria so that food stuff and medicines can get to those who are in need and have been waiting for those supplies for months.

CHUCK TODD:

John Kerry was emphatic today, ground all planes. I think you may have heard him say this or heard that he said something like this especially in the Northern part. Would you support a temporary grounding whether it’s the Syrians, the Russians, the United States, the Turks, everybody ground planes temporarily while there’s a reassessment?

ROUHANI:

Well, what is supposed to happen is that the war and the battle would continue against the Daesh terrorists. So if you ground all planes that would mean that Daesh can continue its savage killings with more vigor. You do know that a considerable part of the Syrian territory has come under the control of the Daesh or Jabhat-al-Nusra terrorists.

And in all of these discussions and the essence of the discussion has been to have sustained attack on the terrorist positions, to bomb them. To keep them under pressure. So if you ground all airplanes, then it would 100% benefit the terrorists, the Daesh terrorists. So to move towards that direction would mean a move towards benefiting terrorism.

CHUCK TODD:

But if there’s not even a temporary grounding, how does any humanitarian aid-- you just described, essentially you were saying what is happened were accidents, or you described that this could happen when you have all sorts of different planes in the air and different targets sometimes or different interpretations of who’s with Daesh and who isn’t. But if there is no temporary grounding, would you support a temporary grounding even if just a week, two weeks, to get aid there so that the United Nations could get aid there? Would you support something like that?

ROUHANI:

I'm certain that you're aware that previously, the United Nations, through various regions of Syria, has brought to the scene humanitarian aid. Any proposal can be coordinated in order to avoid the targeting of humanitarian convoys. Everyone can announce it to one another, everyone present on the scene so that no one in that route would come under attack. But that would mean that we must temporarily or permanently ground all flights simply because on one or more routes there are humanitarian aid convoys moving. And that cannot be a solution in order to avoid the targeting of such convoys.

CHUCK TODD:

President Obama, President Putin, I believe yourself, others have said there needs to be a political process to end the war in Syria. Can Iran live with a Syria that is not headed up by Assad?

ROUHANI:

What is of utmost importance is to understand that Syria doesn't have a military solution. And the Syrian problems must certainly be resolved politically. Only politically. What is important for us in Syria is that her territorial integrity is maintained. The uniformity of Syria be maintained, that it will not be divvied up.

And it is important for us that the terrorists be driven out of Syria. And for sustained attack to continue on the terrorists. And it is important for us that in the future governance of Syria, all groups and parties be present. Be it the government of Syria, be it the opposition, for them to have their own roles in the future of the Syrian government.

But who would be the president in a future of Syria? Who would govern? Who would be the representative to their parliament? That must be only reached through independent and free vote of the Syrian people. Whomever they choose must be approved and respected. Therefore, the rule of the ballot box and the rule of the Syrian people and the will of the Syrian people should be the sole determinant of the future of the country.

CHUCK TODD:

There has been some indirect U.S. and Iran cooperation against Daesh or ISIS, ISIL everybody has a different name for it, and it’s been done through the Iraqis. Can you explain how this indirect relationship works and is there-- is there good communication between the U.S. and Iran when dealing with Daesh or ISIS in Iraq?

ROUHANI:

We have no direct contact between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran in the fight against Daesh. Perhaps these contacts do exist between the Iraqi government and the United States, or perhaps between Russia and the United States. But both in Syria and Iraq, the aid that we bring to the scene are to the government of those countries, based upon the request of those governments.

If we render aid in Iraq has been on-- based on the request of the sovereign government of Iraq. And in Syria whatever we have brought to the scene has been based on that same request of the Syrian government. Based on the principle that any cooperation throughout the region or even outside the region must be centralized on the request of the government in that country, be it in Iraq or Syria.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you Mr. President. I want to ask about some prisoners that are being held in Iran. As we speak, there are dual nationals currently being held including three Americans. I hope I get these names right. Siamak Namazi had advocated for closer ties to the U.S. and Iran. His father who is in the 80s. Earlier this week we learned about a U.S. resident by the name of Nizar Zakka who has been advocating for internet freedom. He was just sentenced to ten years in prison. There’s a British-Iranian woman, charity worker, who was sentenced to five years in prison. She had travelled to Iran with her toddler daughter. Several of these prisoners are elderly. They’re in poor health. What is your government doing to resolve this?

ROUHANI:

Well, first of all, you do know that dual citizenship is not recognized under Iranian law. Therefore, those who have dual citizenship from the interpretation of the Iranian laws are Iranian citizens solely and only. And any legal prosecution is carried out on the foundation that they're Iranian citizens, subject to Iranian law. Now, the government, on behalf of all of those who are either going through the court system or are in prison, we work hard so that the laws apply to all of them equally.

The processes apply to all of them equally. And the responsibility of the president of the Islamic Republic is to supervise to ensure the full implementation of the constitution. So the full implementation of the constitution of the Islamic Republic is the responsibility of the president.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, let me ask you another question related to the release of some hostages. There were several cash payments that Iran received from the United States earlier this year. Some critics of that in the United States Senate argue that the money was a ransom payment, a quid pro quo, if you will, for the four Americans that were released in January. Was it? Was-- did you feel as if-- were you waiting to release the prisoners until the money that was agreed to be sent back, money that was held that was belonged to Iran from 1979. Did-- were the hostages being held until that money was transferred over?

ROUHANI:

There were two issues. One of them were the sums of monies belonging to the nation of Iran left in the United States, seized in the United States. And there are still considerable sums of money in the United States that belong to our nation. And we're currently conducting conversations and various dialogues in order to return this money to Iran. Some things that we could not agree upon, there are ways to address those in the international court system.

Now, vis-à-vis the imprisonment of those Iranians or those Iranians who are imprisoned in the United States, or were being prosecuted by the United States, or the same for those who were being held in Iran with dual citizenship. So we worked quite hard in order to have a concerted effort to free those from both sides. Both the Iranians who were being held or prosecuted in the United States, as well as those who were sentenced in Iran and had served some of their prison terms. And they were pardoned for the remainder of their prison term.

So there were these two issues that were being talked about simultaneously on parallel tracks. And perhaps these dialogues can be still conducted simultaneously on parallel tracks while we're conducting those same conversations in order to free the sums of money that are still owed to us. In other words, these are the monies belonging to the Iranian nation, left in the United States for 38 years and must be returned to its rightful owner.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright let me, time for one more question so I want to ask about our presidential election here in this country. Donald Trump has called the Iranian nuclear agreement a “horrible, horrible deal.” He said he wants to renegotiate it, not rip it up, at times. Hillary Clinton has said that her attitude with Iran will be and this agreement is to fulfill it but she comes at it through, she used a phrase “distrust but verify.” Which one of these candidates do you think Iran could have a better relationship with, when it comes to implementing the nuclear deal?

ROUHANI:

The issue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is no longer an issue that encompasses only the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Of course, throughout the atmosphere of presidential elections in the United States, candidates can bring up any topic that they see best suits the needs of their campaigns.

But the reality remains that when the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was passed based on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 and was approved unanimously, that became an international agreement. So the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is an international agreement approved by the Security Council. So all of the administrations and the United States are united in having reached this agreement. No one can say here or there that, "I don't accept this agreement. I want to renegotiate it." This has purely an electoral benefit effect for some.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you believe Iran can have a similar relationship with the next American president that it has, that you have with President Obama?

ROUHANI:

Everything is dependent upon the conditions when we get to that point in time. In any fashion, if the future administration of the United States wishes to continue its animosity towards Iran, then, of course, it will receive the appropriate response. But if it wishes to bring an end to that animosity and start respecting the rightful-- the right of the Iranian nation, whereas it has trampled upon those rights in many instances in the past, then, of course, it will receive the appropriate response in that scenario as well.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. President, thank you for your time. Please travel safe back to your home. Thank you.

ROUHANI:

I thank you so much. God bless you.