Hassan Rohani, the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, is a key adviser to the country's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami. ABCNEWS' Chris Wallace interviewed him in Tehran.
ABCNEWS' Wallace: A senior official in your government tells me that relations between the U.S. and Iran are the worst ever, worse than during the hostage crisis. How dangerous is the situation?
Rohani: We were never threatened by the United States in the past the way we are right now — even at the time of the beginning of the revolution, and even during the hostage crisis.
Wallace: Why do you think the situation is more dangerous now than during the hostage crisis, when the U.S. sent helicopters into your country to try to rescue the hostages? Why is it more dangerous now?
Rohani: Because at that time, the United States' deployment of its military was only to rescue the hostages, and nothing more. But now the United States' goal is to threaten the foundation of our regime.
Wallace: You believe the U.S would like to overthrow the government of Iran?
Rohani: The American officials themselves have said it in a very straightforward way: When the American Congress approves a specific budget to destroy the government of Iran, and when other officials say their goal is to change the government, it therefore means a threat to our national interests and the survival of our government.
Wallace: Forgive me, sir, I am not aware of U.S. officials ever saying they wanted to change the regime in Iran. They certainly have said this about Iraq, but Iran as well?
Rohani: American officials have repeatedly pointed this out. Anyway, when the Congress approves the specific budget to change the government, what does that mean to you?
Wallace: I want to be clear here. You are saying the U.S. government is actively plotting to overthrow the Iranian government?
Rohani: What we really perceive from American behavior and American contact with the opposition groups of this regime, and also the budget that Congress has approved as well as the anti-government propaganda that they have started gives the Iranian officials and the people of Iran [the] impression that the goal of the United States is to change the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Wallace: So you feel you are in a fight for your life?
Rohani: We feel that the survival of government, this important institution, is threatened by a powerful country.
Wallace: What is Iran going to do to defend itself?
Rohani: Naturally, if anyone wants to threaten our national institutions and the will of the people, we will use this will and every opportunity to protect this government.
Wallace: Such as?
Rohani: It depends on what steps the United States takes to destroy the government, and the kinds of threats the United States makes towards us.
Wallace: Are you talking about military steps? Are you talking about economic steps, use of oil as a weapon? What kinds of actions?
Rohani: As I said before, it depends upon on how the United States takes its threatening steps. And we will react accordingly.
Wallace: What you are describing, Dr. Rohani, is a kind of step leading to war.
Rohani: What we feel is that if the American government believes it can use military force to threaten or change our government, then it will take the opportunity to do so.
Wallace: So do you regard yourself at war with the United States?