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Old 02-13-2006, 05:44 AM   #1
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USA Today Interviews Ahmadinajad

Iran can progress despite enemies, president says

By Barbara Slavin, USA TODAY
February 12, 2006

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke to USA TODAY's Barbara Slavin in an hour-long interview Saturday that touched on U.S.-Iranian relations, the Holocaust and Iran's nuclear aspirations.

Ahmadinejad, 49, had just given a long, fiery speech to a large crowd in Tehran to commemorate the 27th anniversary of Iran's Islamic revolution. He smiled at the beginning of the interview when the reporter greeted him in the Persian language, but otherwise made little eye contact. He seemed tired and spoke quietly.

Q: You talk a lot about the things that divide our two countries. What about the things we have in common, for example in Iraq?

A: If countries act on the basis of a set of principles, there can be common ground in many areas.

Q: As in Iraq?

A: (He refuses to answer) If everyone is prepared to act on clear principles, there can be the possibility for common interests.

Q: You say you want Iran to progress but some of your comments have only further isolated the country. How can you progress if much of the world is opposed to Iran?

A: We are relying on the strength of our own people. The people of Iran have stood on their own feet throughout history and despite the bad intentions of their adversaries have been able to move forward.

Q: Don't you need Western investment to renovate your oil industry?

A: It is true but we are not going to compromise on our principles. There are many countries that are interested in working with us.

Q: Isn't it possible that you will face more economic sanctions?

A: It is true but these difficulties are the prelude to advancement. I believe those who want to impose limitations on us will lose more than us.

Q: Are you prepared for direct talks with the United States about the nuclear issue and other problems?

A: Iran is an Islamic country and as Muslims, the basis of our conduct is dialogue and rationality. Except for the occupiers of Jerusalem (Israel), we are prepared to talk to all countries of the world. But the United States has its own conditions. It wants to talk to other countries from a position of overbearing strength and that cannot be a good basis for constructive dialogue.

Q: Is there some signal the United States can send that it wants talks on an equal basis?

A: They have to take a hard look at their own behavior and ask themselves if they were in the place of other nations, what would they do. They choose to threaten us and make false allegations and they want to impose their lifestyle on others and this is not acceptable.

Q: You have made many promises to the Iranian people but how will you keep them? Are handouts sufficient to help the economy?

A: I am among the very rare few politicians that I do not usually give promises. I have promised that I will work and we have a good and very coherent program for the advancement of our nation. Iran is a large country with very good human and financial resources. There is no program for just giving handouts.

Q: Foreign diplomats tell me that the brain drain is increasing and Iranian applications for visas for the West are up 20-50%?

A: The information I have is the contrary. There always has been travel back and forth.

Q: I hear that $200 billion in Iranian funds has fled to Dubai in recent months?

A: Those who have given that figure don't know the magnitude of $200 billion. We have relations with neighboring countries. There is investment back and forth. Dubai is a free trade area. It is natural that many Iranians go there to make investments. What is important is that the result of their work comes back to Iran. Last year, $8 billion was invested in the United Arab Emirates and $11 billion returned.

Q: Why do you say the things you do about Israel and the Holocaust when it only upsets people and further isolates Iran?

A: I don't know who is annoyed by revealing facts. But we know for sure that the people of Palestine are being killed every day with the Holocaust as a pretext and the people of the region have been deprived of peace and security. One day they (the Israelis) used to utter the slogan of the "Nile to the Euphrates." It means they have a larger plan to aggress other nations of the region.

Q: But Israel withdrew from Gaza last September?

A: They had no choice. They were forced to. Isn't the question of Palestine the most important issue in the region?

Q: A lot of Iranians would say no.

A: Apart from those Iranians you mention, the most important problem facing the region is Palestine. This regime (Israel) was founded on the basis of propaganda regarding the Holocaust.

Q: Why don't you go to Auschwitz and see the gas chambers for yourself?

A: My going there will not solve the problem. I cannot take a trip back 60 years but researchers can do that.

Q: Would you accept the testimony of Holocaust survivors in Iran?

A: We accept them but an impartial group should (also) go there and investigate.

Q: But it's established historical fact that all those people died, the same way it is established fact that the CIA overthrew Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953?

A: If we assume that is true, then the Westerners would have to pay the cost. Why should the people of Palestine pay the cost? If we provide the right answer to this question, the important problem of the region will be solved. We want to find a fundamental solution to the problem. We believe if we can go to the root of the problem, security and peace will come to the region.

Q: I have met several of your childhood friends and they say you were a nice and studious kid and played soccer in a special way. But none of them voted for you. Why?

A: I don't know the background and I can't make a judgment. People are free to vote. We are all friends even those who haven't voted for me.

Q: Are you surprised you were elected president given your background?

A: No. This is Iran. Surprises happen. In this country, people decide and I am part of the people. Any young person if he works hard enough can reach pinnacles.

Q: Are you familiar with our Abraham Lincoln, who also came form a humble background?

A: Yes.

Q: Is there any foreign leader you identify with?

A: I am familiar with the history but I don't make personal statements regarding this.

Q: Do you have any message to Americans beyond the slogans you chant at demonstrations that say "Death to America?"

A: We do not have any problem with the people of the United States. If there was not the obstacle of the U.S. government, we were prepared to send assistance to the victims of Katrina. My government has decided to facilitate travel to the United States for Iranian nationals. I want a direct flight. We want peace and calm for all peoples of the world and human dignity for all people. For us, humanity is important. Nationality is not important. We believe that all humanity has the right to live in peace and dignity. Our criticism is targeted to a limited number in the ruling establishment.

American journalists come to Iran and they don't face any problems and they can meet all Iranian officials. It's not the same in the United States. They do not allow our journalists to go there and they put a lot of limitations on their activities.

Q: Would you allow American diplomats to come here to process visas so Iranians don't have to go to Dubai or Turkey?

A: The question of bilateral relations is dependent on a change of behavior. This is not a question you should ask me; you should ask the U.S. government. You can solve this problem through the interests section of the host country. The problem between the U.S. and Iran will not be solved through such gestures.

Q: Would you speak with our ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, who has authority to meet with Iranians?

A: When I said there is a possibility of negotiations, there are certain conditions that need to be realized. If these conditions are met, the form (of negotiations) is not important. The way they have treated our people here has left no ground for talks. They think no one can live without them and this is a wrong notion. We have proved we can live without them. As long as they take that overbearing position of strength and threats, nothing will happen.

Q: Is there anything the U.S. can say or do to change your mind?

A: They think they can solve everything with a bomb. The time for such things is long over. Today we have the rule of rationality and thought. For example, a president has asked a question about the Holocaust. So many questions and publicity that the president is a warmonger. I think the Americans still don't know what's happening in the world. They think in a world manufactured by themselves. They have given support to those who published the cartoons and this is not the right thing to do. This kind of defamation is an insult and will not contribute to the resolution of problems. The wave of disgust toward U.S. policies is increasing. They only recognize their own friends, not others. We have in this world 6 billion people. It's not an American club. The majority are not Americans and are not interested to be Americans.

Why should there be impositions on them? If there are clear principles, the world will be a better place.

Q: What did you think of New York when you were at the United Nations?

A: Unfortunately, I was very busy and I didn't find a time to have private conversation with people. Our comings and goings were limited. If I had an opportunity, I would meet the people.

Q: But didn't you form some impression from looking out the window of your car?

A: It's not the buildings that make the city, it's human relations. You have to see how people live with each other and how much they like and sympathize with each other. What is important is the soul of the city. Unfortunately, I was not able to contact that soul. I saw many tall buildings and cars but they are made of steel and concrete. They do not reflect the sentiments of the people and that only comes from direct encounters. But generally speaking, people are the same everywhere and New Yorkers are no exception. They like peace and justice and tranquility.
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