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LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. We're about to listen to a man the U.S. government considers the president of a rogue state. He is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. In an interview he insisted there is nothing aggressive about his country's behavior.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW WITH MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD)

INSKEEP: Is confrontation with the United States in Iran's national interest?

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) We do not have confrontations with anyone. The U.S. administration interferes, and we defend ourselves.

INSKEEP: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke through a female interpreter. He's in New York to address the United Nations today. Yesterday, his entourage planted an Iranian flag in a New York hotel room. And Iran's president sat before that flag to answer our questions. He's under pressure at home for the soaring cost of living. He's under pressure abroad because much of the world wants Iran to stop enriching uranium. The U.S. says it could be made into nuclear bombs. Yet during a combative interview, President Ahmadinejad almost never stopped smiling. He says Iran has offered to cooperate with President Bush.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW WITH MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD)

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) I even said that I'm prepared to talk at the United Nations with him.

INSKEEP: Does your country - does your government that you represent have any proposal that it can make that would reassure the world when it comes to uranium?

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) Again, it's not the world people who are concerned. It's the American government that's concerned.

INSKEEP: I take it that's no. You're not interested in...

Unidentified Interpreter: (Farsi spoken)

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) Of course, we do have a proposal, and that's to advance law for everyone.

INSKEEP: Iran's president says inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency already visit Iran. They offer, quote, "the best guarantee that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful." The same day that Ahmadinejad said this, the nuclear inspectors expressed concern that Iran is withholding information.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW WITH MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD)

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) Why is it that the U.S. administration and the two or three groups that follow it allow themselves to speak for the world?

INSKEEP: I think it is fair to say that there has been rhetoric on both sides. You have spoken about wiping countries off the map and chopping off hands. When you speak in that way, do you play into the hands of President Bush? You give rhetoric that effectively reinforces his case. He says you were a certain kind of leader, and you pose as that leader.

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) You've asked a good question. You are aware that 55 years ago, the U.S. government overthrew the national government of Iran through a coup, and imposed a tyrannical dictator on our people.

INSKEEP: Iran's president is recalling abuses committed decades ago under a U.S.-backed ruler, the Shah of Iran. He turned to history more than once in our talk, saying everything is related to history, which was also on his mind when we discussed Ahmadinejad's famous remark about Israel. That remark has become the universal shorthand for Ahmadinejad.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW WITH MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD)

INSKEEP: As you know, Mr. President, you are known in much of the world, and not only in the United States, as the man who wants to wipe Israel off the map. Are you?

AHMADINEJAD: (Farsi spoken)

INSKEEP: When he spoke of wiping Israel off the earth, he contends he did not mean it to happen by force.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW WITH MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD)

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) Our proposal has been to offer the Palestinian people a free referendum. Let me create an analogy here. Where exactly is the Soviet Union today? It did disappear. But exactly how? It was through the vote of its own people. So therefore in Palestine too we must allow the people, the Palestinians, to determine their own future.

INSKEEP: You mentioned elections, Mr. President. You mentioned a referendum, which raises another question in my mind. In Iran the government disqualifies sometimes thousands of candidates if they do not have what is considered to be the appropriate beliefs. They are not permitted to run. Why do you not trust Iran's people to make that choice instead of the government making it for them?

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) I in fact believe that elections in Iran are among the freest in the world. There's at least a hundred times more freedom in Iran than there is in the United States.

INSKEEP: Why don't you trust people to vote for everybody?

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) We trust people. The elections are free in Iran.

INSKEEP: After the candidate rolls are removed.

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) It's the restrictions here that exist. We have a law in Iran. According to the law, whoever - who possesses qualifications to become a candidate can run, for example, for the presidential elections. A clear example of the confidence we place in the people is I myself. I didn't belong to any party. I taught at the university.

INSKEEP: And if the supreme leader didn't want you to run, you would not run?

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) No, not at all. There were seven other candidates.

INSKEEP: Permitted. Who were permitted.

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) I ask you, can anyone in fact become a president without the support of either of the two parties here in the United States?

INSKEEP: Anyone may put his name on the ballot in the United States.

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) Are the 300 million people here in America members of either of the two parties? No, not necessarily. You have no other choices here. You only have two choices. In Iran at least we had eight. Who is more free? Who has more confidence in its people?

INSKEEP: Eight people in the political spectrum from about here to here, and I'm holding my finger an inch apart.

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) You do agree there are restrictions even farther here in the United States and elsewhere?

INSKEEP: I do not agree. The United States - the American system has its own problems, which we may discuss in another interview. I would look forward to the discussion.

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) Why do you assume that your system is better than everybody else's?

INSKEEP: I assume nothing, Mr. President. I ask questions. And my final question is this. Many Iranians listen to Western music, watch Western television, read Western books if they can get them. That raises the question of whether you have lost touch with many of your people.

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) In fact, I'm one of the few people - one of the people who is at all times among the Iranian people. I have links with everyone in Iran. There are no restrictions for them. Why do think that that's a new trend?

INSKEEP: Haven't your police confiscated satellite dishes?

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) But that's a different discussion, no. It's a law. We are not addressing the law. The law was passed as a bill when it happened. There are other issues there. Sure, certainly there are some problems, but it has nothing to do with the discussion.

INSKEEP: Do you watch any Western television programs, Mr. President?

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) Yeah, like everyone else.

INSKEEP: What programs?

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) People, after all, like movies and shows.

INSKEEP: Any Western music that you listen to, or books that you read?

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) Sure, me too, like everyone else. But this isn't what matters. That's not how nations matter. People in Iran see everything, read everything. They don't restrict themselves to one outlet.

INSKEEP: The Beatles? Led Zeppelin?

AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) And it doesn't basically put its - restrictions on itself. They use whatever they have. But that's the Iranian nation, and they know how to defend their own rights, too. They won't put up with force or with domination, whoever - by whoever, please remember that.

INSKEEP: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke in New York. Our full conversation is at npr.org. His term of office is ending. A second term is not certain, but he takes the world stage at least one more time at the United Nations today, the same day the U.N. hears a final speech from President Bush. It's Morning Edition from NPR News.

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