STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:
And I'm Linda Wertheimer.
Three world leaders, including President Obama, stood together today in denouncing Iran. They focused on the revelation that Iran has been enriching uranium at a facility that was secret until now.
BARACK OBAMA: Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow, endangering the global non-proliferation regime, denying its own people access to the opportunity they deserve and threatening the stability and security of the region and the world.
WERTHEIMER: That's President Obama speaking this morning in Pittsburgh at a summit of world leaders. The French president and British prime minister stood beside him as he spoke. News of a secret nuclear facility comes days before Iran, the U.S. and other nations begin talks on Iran's nuclear program. This news came shortly after Iran's president sat down with you, Steve Inskeep. What did he say about Iran's nuclear program?
INSKEEP: Frankly, he was evasive on the nuclear issue, Linda. And that was one of several subjects that we brought up yesterday at a New York hotel.
This is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was in this country this week for a meeting at the United Nations, and it was his first trip here since the start of protests against his disputed reelection in Iran. So this morning, we're going to hear what Ahmadinejad said about that. In the past, Ahmadinejad has suggested that foreign influences were involved in the unrest. And when it became clear that protestors were tortured by security forces, he suggested even that was part of a foreign design. So this was a big part of our conversation when we sat down with an interpreter in that hotel.
Since we last spoke a year ago, I had an opportunity to visit your country. Since that time, early this year, a number of the people who I spoke with who defended Iran to me have been arrested and placed in prison by your government. I would like to know why people have been placed in prison in recent months for what appear to be political disagreements with you.
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: (Through translator) I really don't know who the individuals that you speak of are or where they are at the moment. I personally am against anyone being in prison or being arrested for that matter. I do hope that all prisoners are released. No one goes to prison for no reason at all. In Iran, no one is in prison because of opposing Ahmadinejad. But I'll be glad to follow through with the judicial system if you give me the names of the people you speak of.
INSKEEP: I will give you one name as an example. Bejan Hajipour(ph) is a respected intellectual and businessman in Iran. It was not clear that he played a role in the protests against you, and yet he was one of 100 people who were put on trial simultaneously earlier this summer. Many of the hundred confessed, but according to your former president, Mohammad Khatami, the confessions were obtained under what he called extraordinary conditions. Others have described torture.
AHMADINEJAD: (Through translator) In Iran, there's freedom and people can speak their mind. And that is Mr. Khatami's opinion. But the judicial system is an independent body, and they, I'm sure, have convincing answers to give for the measures that they take. If it were the case really the way Mr. Khatami describes, then he too should have been in prison. But then why is he not in prison? So that means that, you know, it's not a sheer act of opposition that sends you to prison in our country.
I certainly can't be the judge of individual acts. I am not a judge in any case, because judges in Iran need to act and operate independently. And the law does foresee the necessary actions and need to be taken against those who violate it.
INSKEEP: You have said you do not wish people to go to prison, and you have said that there is free speech in Iran. Will you publicly and specifically call for the release of the 100 who were convicted en masse at the trial earlier this year? And will you publicly and specifically call for the reopening of the opposition newspapers that have been closed and Web sites that have been shut down in recent months in Iran?
AHMADINEJAD: (Through translator) I'm not in charge of judgments in Iran. The judicial system in Iran is an independent body of its own, and it follows the laws. I do not want to say that what actions are taken by the judges are always a hundred percent correct. But for there to be order in society, we have to except the verdict of the judge.
INSKEEP: Do you still believe, as you have said in the past, that foreigners are responsible for the protests against you in Iran, as well as the mistreatment and torture or prisoners being held in Iranian custody?
AHMADINEJAD: (Through translator) No one has made such claims. It is the behavior and the policy approaches adopted by the Westerners that was actually questioned. They endorsed some illegal actions inside the country. And, of course, having said that, there were measures taken inside the country that were predesigned, as well.
INSKEEP: Why have prisoners been mistreated, tortured and even killed inside Iranian jails, which is something that even some of the highest officials in Iran have acknowledged?
AHMADINEJAD: (Through translator) These things did take place, and it is indeed very regrettable. There's a strong belief that this also was a part of a scenario that was predesigned to destruct the results of the elections.
INSKEEP: Are you suggesting, sir, that you have completely lost control of your own government's security forces, even within the prisons, that even in the prisons your enemies are in control and not you?
AHMADINEJAD: (Through translator) No, that is not what I am saying. Tell me, how many people lose their lives in prisons here in the United States on a daily basis? If that were to happen, does that mean that the U.S. government has lost control?
Or assume two police officers basically do not show up at work, or just decide to violate some internal rules. I mean, at the end of the day, Iran, too, is a large country - a very large country. And there could be a few officers here and there that violate the law.
INSKEEP: You have been quoted in the past saying that the security forces are, quote, "free from these shameful acts." Are you now acknowledging that members of the security forces, in fact, are involved?
AHMADINEJAD: (Through translator) What I spoke of, and you quoted me on, talks of the inherent capabilities that I believe our security forces possess, because they are entrusted with a task that has been defined for them, and that they need to carry out according to the laws of the country. And in my view, if anyone violates them, then they're definitively not a part of our security forces, and then they will be dealt with by our laws, and they may lose their jobs for good.
INSKEEP: That's Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking yesterday in New York City. That was one part of a wide-ranging conversation. We also heard a discussion of the Holocaust last night on NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. And you can find a complete transcript of the interview with the Iranian president by going to our Web site: npr.org.
And again, the major news we're following this morning: Iran has acknowledged the existence of a nuclear facility that was secret until now.
You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.