— NBC Correspondent Andrea Mitchell: Thank you, Mr. President, thank you for seeing us. Sarah Shourd, the American hiker has thanked you and your family has thanked you, and the United States Government has thanked you for what you did, personally I believe, in behalf of her release. The other part of what she pleaded for, though, is the release of her fiancé, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. Is there anything that you can do to try to win the release of these two men?
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Our-- viewers [unintelligible phrase].. I hope that her family [unintel] used to a little understanding and [unintel. We-- we-- we are not-- we are not happy to see other people--any-- anybody-- everybody in the world. We like to see everybody free. Of course, there are some problems, and through the [unintel]. One is about the violations and other things that might be committed. And on the other side, we have laws and regulations. That lady-- with the compassion that [unintel] in the Islamic Republic of Iran has been freed, and now she is with her family. The other two are under the custody of the judiciary now. And hopefully-- they would also prove that-- they didn't want to-- commit any offense and to violate our borders, and they-- they be able to convince the judge.
Andrea Mitchell: But, what evidence is there that they are spies? There certainly was no evidence that she was a spy, and they were all together, they were all friends on a holiday. What reason is there not to release the two men?
President Ahmadinejad: Well, I think-- we should not-- keep ourselves in a position to interfere in the work of a judge. And we should not have an earlier judgment about that case. I think we should let the judge and the court decide about the case. And I think this is the greatest help to all of them.
Andrea Mitchell: Well, in the case of Sarah Shourd, you intervened, and we saw that she was supposed to be released, then she wasn't. And the interpretation is that you were in somewhat of a disagreement with the judicial branch of government. How should we view this? Are there divisions in your government and you finally asserted your power and authority for her release. How should people outside interpret what is going on inside the government?
President Ahmadinejad: Are you-- are you going-- are you looking for the freedom of the lady, or you are-- going to see what is going on in Iran. There are certain laws and regulations in our country. We have a national law, and if somebody is supposed to be freed, that should be done according to the law. Nobody can-- be-- can want or take action beyond the law. Everything should happen within the framework of the law. If, for example, there is certain power that must be within the framework of the national law.
Andrea Mitchell: One suggestion, just to conclude on this, 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?
President Ahmadinejad: That was-- a good proposal, but-- I like-- I l-- I wish they wouldn't-- cross our border in order to-- be forced to get back to New York today. If they had not violated our border, they would have been at their homes for over a year, for one ye-- for more than a year. And we have no problem here. And hopefully, there would be no violation, no-- offense-- and-- otherwise, the judiciary has to react.
Andrea Mitchell: Let me ask you about a statement from the International Atomic Energy Agency today, the UN agency has sharply criticized Iran for interfering with the weapon's inspectors, and in fact a number of countries, Germany, France, Great Britain, said, "Iran's actions or reprehensible." Very strong language from the IAEA-- which issued a report last week saying the inspectors cannot get access to the nuclear sites that they need to see. Why is Iran not letting the experienced inspectors who know this weapons area so well, why is Iran not letting these inspectors in?
President Ahmadinejad: If the IAEA does everything according to the law, we will cooperate. If they are going to-- go beyond the law, it is not acceptable to us. But I'm going to ask the question here. If we were one of the allies of the United States or the West-- should we-- would we be treated the same way by the agency?
Andrea Mitchell: The IAEA—
President Ahmadinejad: IAEA--
Andrea Mitchell: The IAEA treats--
President Ahmadinejad: Please-- please, let me finish, let me finish.
Andrea Mitchell: --all countries that are --
President Ahmadinejad: That the IAEA [unintel] or in fact nuclear facilities or-- provide any report from the West [unintel] in the written in France or in the United States. Do they have any access to those activities? They have no access to those facilities in-- these countries. But, they have no report that we do not have access to their facilities. Okay, they should, for example, publish a report about the number of atomic weapons in France, in the United States, in the United Kingdom, and they should give a report about their nuclear activities. We think there is a model that has been enclosed upon-- on the IAEA and this model cannot bring a solution to the problem. We have already told them about this fact. If they want to go beyond the law, they can continue that. But they will have no result.
Andrea Mitchell: But they--
President Ahmadinejad: If they continue to go in this-- direction, if they are going to do anything-- based-- against justice, that would be a failure. If-- if the director general reduces a report and if he makes a claim, that must be on the basis of evidence that is enshrined, that must be enshrined in the entity. What is the article says that we have committed a violation in our country? They cannot say everything in general, it's about generality. We may say that the agency or the IAEA has-- committed a violation. That is a political-- conflict.
Andrea Mitchell: According to the United Nations-- the IAEA has in fact found grounds for special procedures in the case of Iran, and there are years of sanctions that attest to the fact that Iran has not, in the eyes of the world, agreed. In the eyes of Russia and China, your strongest allies on the security counsel, will you let the inspectors in? Or if you don't, is there a risk of further-- further hostility?
President Ahmadinejad: We are going to do everything within the framework of the law. We have already allowed them to inspect our facilities. And the IAEA has-- visited our facilities a few times. They should-- they should value our cooperation. If they don't do it, then we have to be fair only to the law. These are the law, we have-- we have gone beyond the law, and we have cooperated with them. But they are under the pressures of the United States and the allies and they express political views. So this is not a technical approach and a legal approach to the question. And it is part of the hostility of the United States against-- our people. And this is not, you know, it is of no legal value. We are not concerned about it. We are-- not at all concerned about it--
Andrea 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, why not let them see what they say, Iran is not cooperating? You say Iran is cooperating, they say Iran is not. So why not let them in if it's a peaceful program?
President Ahmadinejad: You say that we-- should not-- continue cooperation within the framework of the law, and they should do everything illegally in our country? They should be confined to a law, shouldn't they?
Andrea Mitchell: They say they're following the procedures, Mr. President.
President Ahmadinejad: 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. And they have nothing based on the entity and other laws and regulations. Let me ask another question. In the mo-- modification for why-- why MPT, the IAEA was instructed to re-- to provide a report about the nuclear activities of the Zionist regime. An illegal regime that has nuclear weapons. They possess nuclear weapons, and they constantly threaten their neighbors. And in the past year, they threatened Iran more than ten times. Have they--
Andrea Mitchell: Well, let's--
President Ahmadinejad: --have-- have they released any report--
Andrea Mitchell: That's--
President Ahmadinejad: --about it?
Andrea Mitchell: But--
President Ahmadinejad: Clearly--
Andrea Mitchell: That's the question--
President Ahmadinejad: We can't--
Andrea Mitchell: --for the leadership for that country.
President Ahmadinejad: --they are the ally of the United States and--
Andrea Mitchell: I'm--
President Ahmadinejad: --they are --
Andrea Mitchell: I am honored to be with--
President Ahmadinejad: They cannot-- write any report--
Andrea Mitchell: --the President of this country. So let's talk about what Iran is doing.
President Ahmadinejad: --think about sending a report.
Andrea Mitchell: Would you return to the proposals that were made in Geneva when Iran agrees with the proposals for the Russia advance in fuel for Iran. Why did Iran agree to that and then renege on it? Would you consider going back into negotiations with the United States and the Europe countries and Russia and China and try to reach that agreement again?
President Ahmadinejad: I think you should pay attention to-- a few points. First, it is-- clearly a number of countries-- there are a number of countries that have been hostile to us-- for more than 50 years. And they continue their hostility against Iran. This is not new to us. But-- what we said in Geneva, we said the same thing in Vienna. And we had-- we-- emphasized our position in Tehran Declaration. We have a stable position. We have announced that within the framework, within the clear framework and context, we are ready for the fuel swap. If the other side wants to have the same agreement within the same framework, we are ready to do it. Our position in Geneva, in Vienna-- and in Tehran is the same. We ha-- so we didn't-- change our approach, we didn't change our decision. Those who were supposed to come forward and to have the fuel swap wanted to impose certain conditions. And those conditions were not acceptable to us. That is a deal, that is a business. That can be a preparation for-- the director cooperation. But on the-- pretext of a fuel swap, they cannot violate our rights. That is clear. We have already announced, and we still say that we are ready for the fuel swap.
Andrea Mitchell: Mr. President, let me ask you about the broader question of relations between the United States, the West, and the Islamic world, because there has been some terrible tension. The controversy over the mosque in New York City, the Islamic cultural center and mosque. The president has said that there is every right to build it, and the mayor of New York City has said it should be built. But, there's so much anger. And I'm wondering from the perspective of you as a leader here-- the protests in the streets that we've seen over-- the attempts, or at least threat to desecrate the holy Quran. What do you think of this rising anger between these two cultures?
President Ahmadinejad: I think-- there are no-- there are not-- two cultures. At least, I should say there is no-- conflict between the two cultures. They should find where the problem is. I ask this question. Do the people of the United States hate the pe-- the Muslims? Is that so? That's not-- true. Muslims do not hate Americans either. This has nothing to do with the people here. The-- that has no-- that has nothing to do with cultures. It is-- we believe that there is a minority in the United States and they are Zionists. They have no religion. They believe in no religion. And they-- they have no culture. They are only for their material interests. They are against all religions, against all divine books-- divine-- all divine-- against all divine prophets. Their interests lie in hos-- hostility be-- nations of the world. And their hostility-- their-- interests lie in creating wars and conflicts. 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.
Andrea Mitchell: But it was one--
President Ahmadinejad: It is an insult to all nations--
Andrea Mitchell: --small church with no following. That does not the represent the United States.
President Ahmadinejad: That's not important-- to us, it's not important. I am sure he does not represent the people of the United States.
Andrea Mitchell: And there are Jewish leaders working with Muslim leaders to build the cultural center in New York City. So there's no evidence of any-- of these-- what you call Zionist groups against it.
Andrea Mitchell: In fact, Fidel Castro--
President Ahmadinejad: That's definitely right.
Andrea Mitchell: --Fidel Castro, your old friend Fidel Castro criticized you-- for your comments about--
President Ahmadinejad: I think you should--
Andrea Mitchell: --Israel and the Holocaust.
President Ahmadinejad: --allow me to talk-- to speak.
Andrea Mitchell: Excuse me.
President Ahmadinejad: I think you should finish first, and then you should let me explain.
Andrea Mitchell: Please.
President Ahmadinejad: Okay. Will you finish please? You can continue to talk. Okay, let me answer. What you see in Islam-- Islamic countries is-- what the people are against that ugly-- behavior. And 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. They are not against any church. They say that is a very bad and ugly behavior. Do you think-- it is right-- it was right? I think you should definitely condemn it. Everybo-- everybody has condemned that act. We should be vigilant to prevent repetition of such a work. We believe that Zionists are angry today because they say these global development is going against their illegitimate interests. And they continue their ugly works, activities-- the-- prov-- provocations, [unintel] that contains in order to divide nations. And I think they will suffer a defeat, because all Islamic nations-- Muslims, the-- Americans, and Christians are very vigilant and they are clever. They will not be trapped by this Zionist defeats and-- conspiracies. So-- they would see only a failure for their behavior--
Andrea Mitchell: Well, we-- we've seen no evidence that there is any such Zionist conspiracy. But let me ask you about the Palestinian leaders who are negotiating this very day with the Israeli leaders. They believe there is some chance for an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis for two states within a year. Should you not support what Mahmoud Abbas is trying to achieve for his people?
President Ahmadinejad: Let them continue negotiations. Are you against negotiations? Let them talk. But we think that that is not the solution to the Palestinian issue. We are just-- telling them the truth. This method is not the right one. And it has had no results, because these fundamental issues in Palestine have been forgotten and neglected. Because those who want to talk, they should represent the Palestinian people. If they do not represent the Palestinians, the Palestinians will never accept-- them. We think we should allow a referendum to be held in Palestine, and the Palestinian people should decide about their future.
Andrea Mitchell: Well, they've had elections.
President Ahmadinejad: This is enshrined in the United Nation charter, the right to self-determination. Three years ago, they had an election, they formed the government. And unfortunately, the European Government, the United States went against the votes of the people. In fact, they expressed opposition to the United Nations charter. In fact, they said-- they said no to democracy. They boycotted-- that government, they imposed a siege-- on the go-- on that government. But now, there are a limited number of people who are-- who are going to ta-- to talk in Washington and to do negotiations. But they are separate from the main Palestinian issue you see. We say that there will be no result because the Palestinians are not represented in the results--
Andrea Mitchell: Let me ask you about the relations between Iran and the United States. President Obama reached out to the Iranian people with a number of messages.
President Ahmadinejad: I would like to say a few points this [unintel] connection. We think that-- in the world-- the important thing is the relationship around nations and governments. All co-- countries must be in contact with each other, and they should have relations. Thirty years ago, the government of the United States, the Union broke off relations with Iran.
And-- all-- these years, they-- stood against our people. They continued hostilities, and they cooperated with all of our enemies. President Obama said, "We are going to make it-- to make it up." And we welcomed that idea and position. I sent a message for him after his election. Of course, I received no answer. He just gave a general response. And that is not considered a response to my message. 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. Even if he wants to do something, apparently there are certain groups who do not allow him to do it.
Andrea Mitchell: You're suggesting that President Obama--
President Ahmadinejad: We think they are --
Andrea Mitchell: --doesn't have-- doesn't have-- the-- as Commander in Chief and leader of the United States does not have the decision-making power over what he does?
President Ahmadinejad: Do you really think President Obama can do anything he wishes to?
Andrea Mitchell: Within-- within the--
President Ahmadinejad: He does not--
Andrea Mitchell: --the constructs of the United States Constitution. But what would you like to hear from President Obama? And what would you like to say to him?
President Ahmadinejad: The Constitution is already on the [unintel]. What about the political scene? The reality on the ground? Is he able to do everything he wishes to? Personally, it's not true. There are different political group, there are a lo-- different lobbyist pressure groups, and more important, there are Zionists there. We say, if he wants to do something, there are certain groups who do not allow him to do so. We think-- President Obama had a lot of good opportunities. For example, including the nuclear swap. Last year, during my visit to New York, I said I am ready to have a debate with President Obama-- in the presence of the media. That was another opportunity. We said in Afghanistan and in Iraq, we can cooperate for the enhancement and improvement of security and democracy. President Obama in his speeches, said he's interested to do so, and to engage in such cooperation. But nothing has yet happened with regard to special position. We think pressure groups do not let him go ahead.
Andrea Mitchell: Well, there certainly has not been any suggestion anywhere else that there are so-called Zionist pressure groups who make decisions for President Obama. But when you come to the United Nations, do you have a suggestion or an offer-- a new offer for a way to get this relationship between two nations who have people who-- your people and the people in the United States want peace? Your people have great needs, you're suffering under sanctions. What can you suggest that you might say to the United Nations, that might change this very serious growing confrontation?
President Ahmadinejad: So, here-- I like to say that our nation does not need-- the United States whatsoever. 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. When we say-- nations should establish and build relationship, it doesn't mean that we are in need of the United States. Of course, all nations of the world need each other. When they develop relationship, they exchange cultures, they exchange-- experiences, and-- they can promote-- friendly ties among themselves so they can promote friendship. And we are living for all these values in the world. Four years ago, we-- had a proposal of-- in Iran, we wanted the government of the United States to allow for a direct flight between Tehran and the United States. We have taken necessary steps. Even now, there are-- people in the United States who want to go to the United States, and they are controlled-- by the government of the United States and they are-- denied a visa. Even if we-- when we are going to participate in the United Nations General Assembly-- people who are going to accompany me face problems. We say they should open the way to allow people to-- and this is going to-- secure the interests of all sides. They should allow scientists, artists, and-- general-- ordinary people to exchange-- visits. And this is good for both sides because a million people from both sides can-- visit each other's countries. And this is a very good proposal.
Andrea Mitchell: But, as you know, there are U.S. procedures that have been taken because of past Iranian support for Hamas, and other terrorism. As well as the sanctions now imposed by the rest of the world because of the nuclear issues. So don't those issues have to be confronted, resolved before there can be open exchanges between our two countries?
President Ahmadinejad: No, why-- I said that this is the result of Zionist pressures. What does Hamas mean? Hamas is a group living in its own country and in its own homeland. Why should Hamas be an obstacle for the relationship between Iranians and Americans? So is that-- the-- isn't it because of the pressures of Zionist and the U.S. administration? I have a question. Why did the United States-- Government broke-- break off relations with Iran? Why? We had a revolution for freedom, for democracy, for-- the administration of justice, for purity, for developing-- God-worshipping. These are good things, very good values. Why did they-- break off relations with us? Before revolution, the country was under a dictatorship, a totalitarian government. But that defeater was supported by the u-- United States. There was no elections in our country. The people had-- played no role. There was no freedom for democracy. But in the Islamic Republic of Iran-- visi-- victory of the revolution, we had freedom and democracy. The question is, why does the government of-- why did the government of the United States cooperate with a dictatorship, with a dictator, but they never supported a democratic--
Andrea Mitchell: Well that--
President Ahmadinejad: --and free government?
Andrea Mitchell: --there was the little matter of the embassy and--
President Ahmadinejad: And now, they broke off relations.
Andrea Mitchell: --coincided at that time. So without re-litigating what happened in 1979, I wanted to ask you about a couple of other cases here. The case of Robert Levinson, do you know what has happened to him? His family is so concerned, his daughter is being married next week, and she doesn't know where her father is--
President Ahmadinejad: Who-- who-- who is--
Andrea Mitchell: --this is the man who's been missing.
President Ahmadinejad: Who is Levinson?
Andrea Mitchell: Levinson, he's been missing for three years. He disappeared on Kish Island, and his family just wants answers. Do you know anything about the case?
President Ahmadinejad: Yes-- earlier, the government of the United States-- provided some information, and we have provided a response. Even we agreed for the formation of a committee and both sides can jointly work on that. Of course, we had no information about his being an agent of ef-- FBI.
Andrea Mitchell: Retired.
President Ahmadinejad: But-- but-- that's-- then there is a question. How-- what-- an FBI-- agent-- do-- in our country? But however, we say-- we said we were ready to have a joint-- information committee of-- to--
Andrea Mitchell: Is he alive?
President Ahmadinejad: --see where he is. I think—[laugh] I should ask this question, I don't know. We don't know. How could we know that? We think if they-- sit and talk-- we can-- find a trace. According to our-- reports, our people say that he left the Kish Island, but we are here for any humanitarian help.
Andrea Mitchell: And the other humanitarian issue, Ashtiani. People of your country don't understand. Why don't-- what is the reason, no matter what someone has done, that someone would be sentenced to stoning? Can you explain that for us? Is there-- why is it still allowed, stoning, in your country?
President Ahmadinejad: Do you have any information about-- the-- verdict of stoning to death by judge? I have not heard that the judge has issued any verdict for stoning. And it has not happened. Somebody in Germany claimed that what the judge of the court said, it is not true.
Andrea Mitchell: The sentence was suspended.
President Ahmadinejad: How? No, that's not true. It is in the initial-- stages of the legal proceedings. It is in the initial stage of inv-- legal investigation. No verdict or decision has ever been issued by the courts, has yet to be issued by the court. I think the problem goes back to the-- Western media and they just want to show their hostility against Iran. That is very bad, why? Do they have any evidence that special verdict has been issued by the court of Iran? A lady is accused of an offense. And it is in the-- and the case is in the initial stages of the investigation. Somebody in Germany said-- stoning to death-- was the decision by the-- was decided by the court. Then they started to-- profit... And everybody is-- expressing their view about the case. We have an independent judiciary in Iran, and-- we have-- a due process of law which is very progressive in the world. Any crime must be investigated and go through a legal proceeding in five stages. If, for example, a judge issued a decision, or a verdict that can be-- reviewed in-- another tribunal, and higher-- courts. I think you cannot see that-- that in-- in any place in the world. Don't you have tribunals in the United States? Don't you have people who are sentenced to death-- who are receiving death sentence? Why does it happen? Does the government of the United States like to jail people or to imprison them?
Andrea Mitchell: They have a right to a fair trial, to a lawyers--
President Ahmadinejad: Oh, they are people who committed a crime, and they break the law. That is the situation in Iran too. We have a very just legal and judicial system. People can have access to a defense attorney, and they can also appeal-- the court-- judgment. We think we have a more advanced judicial system than the systems which are now-- which now-- that exist in Europe and in the United States. If the legal experts and juries talk and discuss this issue, they can see that we have a more humanitary and judicial system than in the United States and in Europe--
Andrea Mitchell: When you come to the United States, the United Nations, you're gonna be seeing-- many leaders who will have questions for you. What will you answer them when they say, "Does Iran want a nuclear weapon? Is Iran hiding a nuclear weapon?" What is your response?
President Ahmadinejad: Are you the spokes-- person of the people whom-- I'm going to meet?
Andrea Mitchell: No, I'm asking what people would wanna know.
President Ahmadinejad: Ah, I can-- I-- I would say what-- their question could be. I have already met with more than 100 heads of state and government. And I have met-- many of their-- some of their pe-- a few times. Almost all of them do not support the policies and positions of the United States, the West, and their-- European allies. They have already said that it's about nuclear issue, Iran is doing everything against-- according to the law, and Iran should continue its-- resistance. This is the thing that-- this is the position of the people whom I met. But if they said something else in their meeting with you, I have no information about it. We have repeatedly-- expressed our position, and also our position that Iran is against-- the development of a nuclear bomb. We also asked for a global nuclear disarmament. And those countries that possess nuclear-- bombs are-- known in the world. And I think the U.S. administration and its allies instead of trying to divert the-- to mislead public opinion, they should-- go-- in the direction of disarmament. They are concerned more about themselves, m-- more about their own nuclear arsenals and nuclear bombs. If they des-- destroy, eliminate their bombs, then they will have no more concern. We are not concerned about anything. We think bomb will have no effect in the world today. The-- those bombs will have no effect in the international relations. Nobody can use those bombs and coerce others today. And those who are going to stockpile those nuclear bombs, this is not the right policy. And they are just-- wasting their-- financial resources.
Andrea Mitchell: Finally, where we began with Sarah Shourd, many people interpreted her release as your efforts to show your leadership and a gesture to the rest of the world, to the United States. Were you trying to signal something? Are you looking for a better relationship?
President Ahmadinejad: We are always looking for better relationship. But we do not need to take any gesture. We do everything we think is right. And-- we-- we don't care about the judgments of others. The important thing is do, that is the right thing to do. I wish you good luck, ma-- ma'am.
Andrea Mitchell: Thank you very much, Mr. President.