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Full transcript of Ann Curry's interview with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Fulll transcript of NBC News' Ann Curry's exclusive interview with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sept. 18, 2013, in Tehran, Rouhani's first since his election in June 2013.
Image: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during an interview with Ann Curry.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks with NBC News' Ann Curry in Tehran on Sept. 18, 2013.Iranian Presidency
/ Source: NBC News

ANN CURRY: Salaam, Mr. President. This is your first real introduction to a foreign audience. And you have said, "Gone are the days when a wall could be built around the country. Today, there are no more walls." What wall do you want most to tear down?

PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): In the name of God, the beneficent, the merciful.  To begin with, I would like to extend my greetings to all the audiences and viewers of this program, and especially the people of the United States.  The situation in the world is such that the more connections exist among peoples and the less the distance, we can better help the interest of nations.

CURRY: So you're saying you want to tear down the wall of mistrust?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Suspicions and miscalculations have created many walls between nations.  Leaders must try to remove these walls.  The wall which is called mistrust, the wall which is called suspicion, the wall called miscalculation should all be torn down, and an atmosphere of friendship and kindness should be established among all nations.

CURRY: Before we get to the specifics of that, let me ask you about the news that has been happening over recent days.  You're just back from a meeting with President Putin.  The very next day the U.S.-Russian deal was announced.  Just how did that happen?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): We are very worried about war in our region.  We have the experience of a number of destructive wars in this region.  The day we feel a new war is about to happen in our region, we consider its destructive consequences.  In the past few weeks, my government made many efforts to ensure that the region does not witness a new war.  In this context, the cooperation between Russia and Iran has been notable.

CURRY: Syria is a very close ally of Iran.  Can you assure the world that President Assad will give up all of his chemical weapons?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Well, you know that, you know, we are ourselves the victims of chemical weapons.  Therefore, we are very sensitive about this weapon.  We are wishing for the removal of all chemical weapons around the world and especially in the sensitive region of the Middle East.  In this regard, we will not stop doing whatever we could possibly do.

CURRY: Can you assure the world that President Assad will give up all of his chemical weapons?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): We are not the Syrian government.  We are one of the countries of the region that seeks peace and stability and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in the entire region. 

CURRY: Do you believe the United States, President Obama looked weak in backing off an air strike on Syria?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): We consider war a weakness.  Any government that decides on war, we consider that a weakness.  And any government that decides on peace, we look on it with respect for the sake of peace.  I do not want to make a judgment about individuals or the American government.  I want to express my happiness about a new war not starting.  This is important to me and for my people and for the nations in the region.

CURRY: But so many Americans feel, many others around the world feel President Obama looked weak.  What do you say about President Obama and the United States' position in striking a deal with Russia?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): I do not want to make a judgment about individuals or the American government.  I want to express my happiness about not starting a new war.  This is important to me and for my people and for the nations in the region.

CURRY: As you well know, President Obama sent a very strong message in an interview on Sunday in that your government, quote, "shouldn't draw a lesson from this deal that the U.S. wouldn't strike Iran."  Mr. President, is a credible threat of force necessary for Iran to come to a nuclear deal with the United States?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): This is also one of the miscalculated, inaccurate, and wrong judgments about the Iranian people and the Iranian government. The people and the government of Iran abhor threats as much they hate war.  The passion of the Iranians is friendship all around the world.  We do not see any reason for anyone to threaten us.  And the effect of threats against our people will be that they will despise those who threaten them.

CURRY: The world believes that Iran could build a bomb very quickly.  You've said this period of time for resolving the nuclear issue is not, will not be unlimited.  Just how short is this window, weeks, months or years?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Firstly, we disagree with nuclear bombs because our religion and our faith and morals tell us weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, are inhumane and destructive to humanity.  We have never sought, nor will ever seek, nuclear weapons. We solely seek peaceful nuclear technology and therefore, in this regard and context, we want the world to know that nuclear weapons neither have, nor will have, any place in our doctrine.

CURRY: Mr. President, these are Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's words, not mine.  He has said about you, "His strategy is to be a wolf in sheep's clothing, smile and build a bomb."  Can you say now categorically then that Iran will not build a nuclear weapon under any circumstances whatsoever?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Firstly, an occupier and usurper government, which does injustice to the people of the region and has brought instability to the region with its warmongering policies, shouldn't allow itself to give speeches about a democratically and freely elected government.

We have sufficient courage to express what we believe in frankly and clearly.  We have announced we are not seeking nuclear weapons and will not be.  Therefore, the fact that an aggressive country in the region wants to talk about a popularly and democratically elected government, our civilized country in this way needs to know that the era of such offensive tones is over.  The answer to this question should be quite obvious.  We have repeatedly said that under no circumstances are we seeking.

CURRY: That comment from the prime minister aside, is your answer yes or no, if I might ask, to the question, can you say that Iran will not build a nuclear weapon under any circumstances whatsoever?     

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): The answer to this question should be quite obvious. We have repeatedly said that under no circumstances we are seeking weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons - and will never be.

CURRY: So the answer is no?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Yes, that's clear. 

CURRY: So the answer is yes, that you can say that you, that Iran will not seek a nuclear weapon? I just want to make sure I understand.  Forgive me if I repeat this question too many times.  But I want to make sure I understand so that the American public, so the world understands.  If you can say categorically that Iran will not seek a nuclear weapon under any circumstances whatsoever, is the answer to that yes or is it no, sir?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): A country that assigned the NPT and all of whose activities are under the supervision of the IAEA, a country whose leader has clearly expressed that the manufacturing, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons is "haram" -- that is unlawful -- and illegal, the answer is clear.  Under no circumstances would that country seek nuclear weapons.

CURRY: The supreme leader made a very strong statement just recently on diplomatic flexibility.  He said, "I believe in what's already been called heroic flexibility.  Even a wrestler can show flexibility." What does that mean to you, Mr. President?  And what does it allow you in your negotiations on the nuclear issue?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): In its nuclear program this government enters with full power and with complete authority.  I have given the nuclear negotiations portfolio to our Foreign Ministry.  The problem won't be from our side.  We have sufficient political latitude to solve this problem.

CURRY: What are you hoping will come then of your meeting in New York next week when you make your much anticipated speech before the United Nations?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): We want to express our positions at the General Assembly of the United Nations clearly.  With regard to our foreign policy, regarding international issues, including nuclear issues as well as regional issues, our expectation is that the whole world will hear us well. My voice is, in fact, the echo of the Iranian nation's voice.  Iranians in this presidential election adopted the voice of moderation, the voice of moderation in foreign policy, which means constructive interaction with the whole world.

CURRY: You use the word moderation.  So let me ask you this question.  Is there anything in the nuclear negotiations that is non-negotiable?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): The nuclear negotiations need only one thing and that is the political will of the other side to reach an agreement. This does exist on our side.  And in my opinion, if both sides have the political will, then the Iranian nuclear issue is a very simple matter and can be settled in a short period of time.

CURRY: You've signaled repeatedly that Iran is ready to negotiate.  You've said that the end game on the nuclear issue would be a win-win.  What could a win-win look like, sir?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): The meaning of win-win is that the negotiating countries should respect and recognize and accept the legitimate, peaceful nuclear rights of Iran.  And on our side, to bring about the necessary confidence among the opposing parties that our program is peaceful.

CURRY: If you say that there can be a win-win and you're now saying, "I want to negotiate with the United States," the question is what are you putting on the table? What is a win-win potentially going to be?  Can you give us any idea?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): I have sufficient experience in foreign negotiations including the nuclear negotiations.  And with this experience, I am saying that there is only one thing we want from the opposite side, the Five-plus-One.  And that is political will.  If there is political will, resolving this issue is a very simple task.  We only want our nuclear activities to be peaceful and have accepted the international supervision over those activities. Therefore, resolving the issue is very simple.  If this will exists on the other side, all the issues that might be brought to the negotiating table could be settled and resolved.

CURRY: What kind of will do you need to see from the United States?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): In nuclear issues we want the Americans to express that they do recognize, respect and accept all of Iran's legal rights in its peaceful pursuit of nuclear technology.

CURRY: You're saying you want the United States to acknowledge that Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear program?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): It means that whatever international rules or regulations are asking and telling us what the whole nations are - could enjoy- what 40 nations are now enjoying.  Well, we want to be the same as the others.  We accept no discrimination. If there would be no discrimination, well, we could see the rule of law.  We don't ask anything more: the implementation of the international rules and regulations without any discrimination regarding Iran.

CURRY: How do you guarantee to the world, which is very concerned that Iran is close to having a bomb - or at least having enough material to build a bomb - how do you make sure that the world also comes to understand that you are not going to use this enriched material for a nuclear weapon?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Well, you see, there are two issues here: one is the nuclear issue in the Islamic Republic of Iran; and the other is the propaganda of the extremists in the whole world who are looking for Iran's nuclear issue not to be resolved at the end.

If they want to resolve and settle down the nuclear issues of the Islamic Republic of Iran we should say that when Iran accepted the NPT and all its activities are under the supervision of the IAEA and in all enrichment facilities there are the cameras of the IAEA and there are constant inspection of the IAEA inspectors, so what kind of concerns are there?  Point is that could there be any concern at all?  All of those who are having enrichments are doing the same thing.  They are under the supervision of the IAEA.  Of course there are some countries, you know them well, that are not under the supervision of the IAEA.  They are not member states of the NPT.  But there is no concern regarding their activities.  But there are concerns regarding a country which accepted all the rules and regulations.  Therefore from our point of view, this is absolutely meaningless.

CURRY: If the United States, if the world acknowledges or agrees that Iran has the right to a domestic nuclear program that does not have a nuclear weapon as its goal, would Iran be willing to scale back on enrichment? Could Iran agree to limits?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Well, Iran could give sufficient assurances to those countries who have logical concerns.  And this issue could be settled during our negotiations.

CURRY: You're saying that you're - it sounds like you're saying that there are some things in mind - that you have in mind - that you're willing to put on the table.  Is that a fair assessment of what you just said?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Well, my intention is that Iran, the same as other countries, would not accept discrimination.  There should not be any discrimination between Iran and other countries.  If there are logical, understandable concerns, we are ready to remove and resolve those concerns. 

CURRY: Can you be any more specific, Mr. President?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): When the negotiations between two parties start, these issues - detail issues - could be raised and resolved. The totality of the negotiation is that Iran doesn't want the world to have concerns about Iran's nuclear activity.  Iran wants to have peaceful nuclear activities.  Iran is against any nuclear weapons.

CURRY: If the clock runs out and a nuclear deal is not reached, Mr. President, what happens?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): All parties would suffer.  As a matter of fact, we do not want to see a lose-lose game.  We are looking for a win-win game.  Are we not caring for the interests of every nation?

CURRY: So how important do you see the opportunity of your visit to the-- to New York next week to speak in front of the United Nations?  Are you willing to meet with President Obama in New York at the United Nations?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Well, as a matter of fact, this is the General Assembly. It is an opportunity to express our viewpoints, whether it is in the speech I'm going to deliver in the General Assembly session or in the disarmament session or in the bilateral or multilateral meetings we are going to have in New York.  I do not have any program to meet President Obama in our agenda.

CURRY: Would you be against meeting with President Obama in the near future, Mr. President?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Well, anything is possible in the world of politics. It depends on having the necessary conditions.  If in the first steps we see goodwill and good intention, mutual confidence and trust, and if we see that the Americans are talking from respectful positions, a lot of things could be put in the agenda.  But the issue of nuclear talks is the most important test in this regard.  If we see goodwill from both sides and good intention from both sides and reach a mutual agreement, the way would be paved for further talks regarding various issues.

CURRY: Mr. President, President Obama has revealed that you and he have exchanged letters.  Could you please describe the tone of those letters?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Well, after the presidential elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the inauguration ceremony, I mean, after the official work of the government of Iran began, President Obama wrote a letter to me.  He congratulated my election and some issues of his interest were raised in that letter. I responded to that letter.  I thanked him and expressed the Islamic Republic of Iran's viewpoints regarding the issues President Obama raised in his letter and some other issues.  From my point of view the tone of the letter was positive and constructive.

CURRY: Do you see it as a foundation?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Well, it could be a subtle and small step for a very important future.  I believe that leaders in all countries should think of their own national interests and they should not be under the influence of extremist pressure groups.  I hope to witness such an atmosphere in the future.

CURRY: Were you surprised to receive a letter from the president of the United States?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): No, because almost all leaders of the world congratulated me.  Almost all senior officials of the Western world and Europeans congratulated me, and so did President Obama.  I was not surprised, especially because all of us should think of the future. Regarding the past, our positions regarding the United States were clear.  In the last 60 years, we have had a lot of problems in our relationship with the United States. And our people do have a lot of complaints regarding the policies of the United States especially regarding the war they imposed.  But regarding the dark events of the past, we should not be, we should not lose hope regarding the future.  There are ways to be paved for the future if we have the political will.  And all of us should learn lessons from what happened in the past.

CURRY: You mention political will.  Much of what Americans think about Iran is influenced by your predecessor and some statements that he had made.  So let me ask you.  President Ahmadinejad said, "The Holocaust is a myth."  Do you agree?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): I'm not historian.  I'm a politician.  What is important for us is that the people, the nations in our region should get closer to one another.  The nations in the world should get closer to one another so that they could prevent aggression and brutality.  What I could say is that the people of Palestine should not be displaced.  They should return to their homes.

CURRY: President Ahmadinejad had people believing that he wanted to wipe Israel off the map.  Do you agree with this?  Is that what you want?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): What we wish for this region is the rule of the people's votes.  We will leave in ballot boxes and the Palestinian issues who believe that people's votes should determine the destiny of that region.  The votes of all, Palestine’s and all those who belong to Palestine, that's what we believe and what we respect.

CURRY: So I've just asked you two questions that relate to things that President Ahmadinejad said that caused a lot of Americans to be concerned about Iran.  And I want to know, I want to ask you again if you want to say that these statements are erroneous or if you have a problem with these statements.

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Why are you only returning and referring to the past?  Our people and the whole world acknowledge and realize the importance of elections.  The people of Iran clearly talk to the world.  The people voted for someone whose voice is moderation.  People voted for someone who said that in our foreign policy we are looking for constructive interaction. We are not seeking or looking for war with any nation.  We are seeking peace and stability among all nations in the region.  And basically speaking, we are striving for peace and stability to be restored in the world.

CURRY: Mr. President, you talked about Iran's role in the U.S.-Russian deal that created an agreement so that there would not be a U.S. air strike in Syria.  May I ask you when you saw the images of Syrian children suffering because of a chemical attack, what was your reaction not as a president but as a human being?           

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Whenever you see dead bodies anywhere in the world, you suffer.  When drones attack defenseless people, this is something to be sorry for.  When an unjust war is waged against a nation, this is something to be sorry for. When there are these kinds of civil wars in any nation, in any other country, these problems - when people are being killed there and when it comes to Syria, certainly it is something we are most concerned about.  Like any human being, when I see that an innocent person is murdered or gassed by chemical weapons, I certainly and deeply feel sorry for them.  Therefore I'm asking everyone to collectively work to stop the civil war in Syria.  Hand-in-hand all of us should use diplomacy in order to stop this catastrophe in Syria. But I do not believe that a new war could demolish and stop this catastrophe.  I believe that a new war could escalate this catastrophe.  The dead bodies could be increased drastically.

CURRY: President Obama has suggested that Iran could help find an end to the Syrian civil war.  Do you think finding common ground on Syria could improve relations with the United States?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Basically all the countries in the world should cooperate closely regarding the Syrian issue. We have been actively working diplomatically and in our diplomacy.  In the past, some messages were sent to Americans, and recently the United States responded and showed reaction to those messages.  And Iran sent back its response.  Therefore, we certainly support any measures which can stop this catastrophe and the civil war in Syria.

CURRY: On that point, as you know more than 100,000 people have died in the war in Syria.  You are a cleric, a man of God, as well as a president.  Can you still justify Iran's enormous military and financial aid to President Assad's government, in the face of all this human suffering?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Well, our aid and assistance are delivered to the people of Syria; our assistance is humanitarian.  We are sending and providing medicines and foodstuffs to Syria, and we are going to continue them. Certainly, there are countries which are providing weapons to Syria and have clearly said so.  Unfortunately, there are certain countries which are providing weapons and financial aid to those terrorists.  Terrorism is a great menace and danger and threat to the region.  Some countries which denounced the reason are supporting the very terrorists active in Syria. They are providing intelligence, military assistance.  And, according to the information we had in the past, we have provided this information to others.  They are providing military agents and weapons to the terrorist groups. Certainly this is a dangerous, very dangerous thing, both for the countries in the region as well as for the whole world.  Together we should cooperate in order to fight extremism and terrorism, brutality and aggression. Terrorism and extremism are to no one's benefit.

CURRY: You're talking about Al Qaeda?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Al Qaeda is one of them.  Al Qaeda is one of them.  There are other terrorist groups.  But the most active in Syria is Al Qaeda.

CURRY: But can you be absolutely certain that Iran is not backing a government that has used chemical weapons on its own people?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): I told you we are providing help and assistance to the people of Syria.  We are standing against terrorism everywhere. We do not want to see the victory of terrorists in Syria.  This is a miscalculation by the West.  If some Western companies are supporting the terrorists in Syria, it means that somehow they are playing with fire in the whole region.

We should stop the civil war.  We should pave the ground for negotiations between the opposition and the government.  I mean, the Syrian, with the government of Syria.  We should pave the way and prepare the ground for elections and ballot boxes so that Syrians voice their opinions and then we should all respect the results.

CURRY: It is widely perceived by some governments in the world that Iran is providing more than humanitarian aid in Syria.  Can you categorically deny now that Iran is providing military aid to Syria?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): I may again answer the question.  But don't you think that you are repeating this question for the third time?

CURRY: No, I'm asking about military aid to Syria.  And I'm asking, you've said it's humanitarian aid.

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Well, I told you clearly that our assistance was humanitarian.  And the reason is that Iranian planes providing this help to the Syrians have been forced to land in Iraq repeatedly by the Americans.  They have inspected all the planes and they have found out that they were all humanitarian stuff.

CURRY: Mr. President, upon your election - and you've seen these images of young people cheering in the streets - looking for change, you've said that the government should interfere less in the private lives of people.  What exactly do you mean?  Will you allow the government, will the government stop trying to censor the internet in Iran?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Well, the government is pursuing civil rights and citizens' rights.  And in a short time we are going to introduce a citizens' rights charter.  And we want to see that people in their private lives are completely and totally free.  In today's world, having access to information and the right of dialogue, that is sharing ideas, is the inalienable of all people including Iranians. Certainly almost all governments have some type of observation viewing and monitoring the international networks.  For us, from the moral point of view and national identity, this is of utmost importance.  Therefore, we have to be more careful. We should like to see that our people benefit from all the achievements and findings in the scientific world, that there is such interaction with the whole world and people have access to all sorts of information. Therefore, one of the most important missions of this government is the expansion of our digital infrastructure.  This government is going to do so and pursue it in a short time.

CURRY: Does that mean that people in Iran will have access now to Twitter and to Facebook?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): The viewpoint of government is that people should have access to all international information.  Our monitoring and observations should be in the framework of protecting our national identity and moral values.

CURRY: You got a lot of people's attention when your own Twitter account wished the Jewish people a happy new year.  How do you see social media as a tool of diplomacy?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Well, basically public diplomacy is of great importance.  Social networks are important too.  In my election time, I did not have a very powerful headquarters.  But all my supporters, all of those who supported me - most of them, especially the youth - benefited from these networks. And right now they are using these networks and through these networks they are monitoring the functions of the government.  I see all the activities of the youth in these networks, and I'm happy with this and the way they are monitoring, the working of the president and the government.  But personally speaking I do not have a specific program in social networks.  But my supporters are most active in these areas.

CURRY: I think we're both getting a symbol that it's almost out of time.  So there are just a couple more very quick questions I'd like to ask.  And I think one you're - I think both you're going to want to answer.  One is about you and your legacy.  You have children.  What do you want to accomplish above all in your presidency for their sake?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Well, I announced my plans and program regarding various areas during my presidential elections and campaigns: cultural issues, political issues and social issues in foreign policy, as well as economic issues.  I have promised the people I would try to realize those promises. I am very hopeful - as our people are hopeful - and people are very good supporters of the programs which the government has adopted.  The government has never thought of looking down on the people.  We are always supporting the people and providing service to the people.

CURRY: You speak several languages.  Is there anything you would like to say in English to our audience, sir?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): Thank you very much.  But I prefer to speak Persian. 

Anyway, I want to tell all the viewers of this program and the people of the United States that the Iranian nation is a great nation.  Iranians are in favor of peace.  And I would like to tell those who are exerting pressures and sanctions against Iranians - threats and sanctions and use the language of insult and intimidation - that they should put aside this language and adopt a language of friendship and dialogue with the Iranian people.  And certainly they will see the results.

CURRY: And if they do, how soon do you think there could be relations that are improved?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): I did not talk about relations.  I said those who look for sanctions against Iranians have not adopted a very good constructive and fruitful policy.  They ought to correct their behavior.

CURRY: Everyone is waving at us, so I think we have to stop.  Is that right?  Do we need to stop, sir?

ROUHANI (VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): I would like to thank you, ma'am.  Also thank your colleagues.  I would like to extend my welcome to you.  I hope you will have a very pleasant stay in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

CURRY: Mr. President, thank you so much for speaking to us.  It was very important to hear your comments.  Thank you, sir.

ROUHANI (VOICE OF PRESIDENT ROUHANI; VOICE OF TRANSLATOR): I also thank you, ma'am, as well as your colleagues.  Thank you.