Exclusive Interview with Iranian Adviser
Sept. 12 -- 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?
Rohani: Of course, not under current conditions, but perhaps in the future it might happen.
Wallace: Probable that you will have a war?
Rohani: In the future, it is probable that we will confront this situation.
President Bush and His 'Axis of Evil'
Wallace: What do you think of President Bush calling Iran part of an "axis of evil?"
Rohani: You have to ask Mr. Bush himself.
Wallace: But I am asking you as an Iranian. I am not asking why he did it, I am asking you what do you think, as the leader of the Supreme National Security Council, of President Bush calling Iran part of the "axis of evil?"
Rohani: For us, it was extremely surprising, the use of this language towards Iran, especially after the September 11th attacks. The Iranian people and Iranian officials sympathized with the American people. And Iran showed its readiness to the United Nations for the fight against terrorism.
Wallace: Given the that Iran had expressed sympathy for the victims of Sept. 11, given the fact the supreme leader expressed sympathy and condemned terrorism, why do you think President Bush included Iran as part of this "axis of evil?"
Rohani: What we really feel is that inside the United States there are two factions. One faction that is after resolving issues with Iran. And the other faction that tries to add conflict. And usually when this faction feels that conditions are ripe, they push for increased conflict. After Sept. 11, the hardliners, especially the Zionist lobby, became more active and, unfortunately, influenced Mr. Bush.
Wallace: Who you identify within this administration as leading this effort against Iran?
Rohani: Within the Bush administration, there are people who are more moderate and others who are more hard-line. We are familiar with their position and what they say.
Wallace: And who do you think this is? Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld? Vice president Cheney? Who do you see in the hard-line wing?
Rohani: What we see in the harsh speeches of the defense secretary and the national security adviser is a much harder line than the others.
Wallace: And is the president merely a puppet of this group?
Rohani: Well, Mr. Bush's experience in leading a country is not a long and a deep one. That's how we feel.
Wallace: What, an amateur?
Rohani: What we really see in the decision-making is the influence of the Zionist lobby. They are very influential in the administration as well as with members of congress.
Wallace: Some of your leaders have had harsh things to say about president Bush. Former President Rafsanjani said he was a dinosaur with the brain of a sparrow. I believe the supreme leader talked about war mongering. What do you think of President Bush?
Rohani: What I can say is that the people of Iran really didn't expect the harsh language that president bush used towards them. The people of Iran expected President Bush to use a proper tone of voice towards the government and the Iranian people.
Iran and Terrorism
Wallace: Let's talk if we can about the substance of President Bush's remarks about the "axis of evil." Does Iran support terrorism?
Rohani: Iran has always been the victim of terrorism. And also, as you know, since the revolution, terrorist groups inside Iran have been active against the government. And some of these terrorist groups have been supported by Western countries, and America in particular. But Iran has always been against terrorism, and has always fought against terrorism.
Wallace: U.S. officials say that with the Taliban now gone, that Iran is the most active state sponsor of terrorism.
Rohani: What is the reason for what they claim?
Wallace: Well, let me give you some examples, sir. Why did Iran try to smuggle a shipload full of arms to the Palestinians?
Rohani: We have been waiting for a reason for this accusation for the longest time. Do you have any proof to present to us? We have said clearly that this is a baseless accusation, and for this accusation, evidence must be given. Besides, Mr. Arafat's government is a legitimate government, and this legitimate government has the right to buy arms from any other government if it chooses to. This has nothing to do with terrorism.
Wallace: Did Iran try to smuggle a shipload of arms to the Palestinians?
Rohani: I have told you this is not true and we have repeatedly said that if everyone has any evidence of this, they should present it.
Wallace: But didn't this ship pick up these arms off the Iranian island of Kish?
Rohani: No. We have declared clearly that this is not true. And we have also declared that any country that has evidence should present it. This accusation comes from Israel and unfortunately it has also been repeated by some American officials.