Dec. 21, 2009 -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declined to give a yes-or-no answer on whether he could assure the West that Iran would never weaponize its nuclear material and turn it into a bomb.
In an exclusive interview with ABC "World News" anchor Diane Sawyer, the Iranian president also scolded the U.S. and other nations that have threatened sanctions against Iran unless it reins in its nuclear ambitions and submits to international inspections of its nuclear facilities.
"They tell us. 'Let's negotiate.' Then from the other hand, they are saying 'sanctions are coming.' They show the stick.
"Respectable lady," Ahmadinejad said, "this approach has failed... raising the stick of sanctions and then saying let's negotiate. It has failed. It's over. It's not repeatable."
Ahmadinejad rejected evidence that Iran is working on a neutron initiator, a device which has no civilian uses but is the trigger for a nuclear weapon. It was first reported in the Times of London which cited an internal Iranian document. The plans for a neutron initiator has been described as the "smoking gun" that allegedly proves Iran's nuclear program is intent on building a bomb.
When Sawyer asked the Iranian president if he wanted to see the document, he waved it away.
"No, I don't want to see them at all. I don't," he said. "They are all fabricated bunch of papers continuously being forged and disseminated by the American government." White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod told ABC News the accusation that the U.S. fabricated documents was "nonsense."
Ahmadinejad called the reports that it is working on a bomb trigger "fundamentally not true," and said the continuing accusations that the Iranian regime is working to build a nuclear arsenal has "turned into a repetitive and tasteless joke."
Sawyer pressed Ahmadinejad, however, for a yes-or-no answer about his country's nuclear plans.
"Will you say to the American people, tonight, that Iran will never weaponize nuclear material? There will be no nuclear weapon in Iran, ever?" she asked.
Ahmadinejad declined to give a yes or no and did not positively rule out the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Instead, he shook his head and said, "We have got a saying Iran which says 'how many times shall I repeat the same thing?' You should say something only once. We have said once that we don't want nuclear bomb. We don't accept it."
Sawyer interviewed Ahmadinejad in Copenhagen, Denmark, after he attended the United Nations conference on climate change. During the interview, the Iranian president asked nearly as many questions as he answered, and was at times combative, at other times almost playful.
Moments after Sawyer sought her "yes or no" answer on whether Iran would ever weaponize its nuclear fuel, Ahmadinejad interrupted Sawyer and asked with a smile, "Do you think it was right to give the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Obama? Now you can give me a yes or no answer."
"It's up to you," she replied, prompting Ahmadinejad to add, "What has he done for peace in the world?"
Ahmadinejad Defiant Over Sanctions Threat
Ahmadinejad used his time to congratulate Americans on the upcoming Christmas holiday, or the "birth anniversary of Jesus Christ" as he called it. He praised Jesus as "a prophet of God." He also used the moment to scold the West for its foreign policies.
"I would like to ask a question," he began. "Which part of the behavior of the American government's correspond with the culture and teachings of Jesus Christ?... If Christ was here today, would he not punish the American statesmen for the war in Afghanistan and Iraq? Would he not resist them? He would definitely resist them."
He was defiant of the international threat of tougher sanctions on Iran if it didn't agree to agree to proposals to limit its ability to make nuclear bombs.
"We don't welcome confrontation, but we don't surrender to bullying either. If you want to talk with us under fair conditions, we welcome it. If you are saying you are going to impose sanctions, then go and do it," Ahmadinejad said.
The Iranian president rejected any suggestion by Amnesty International and opponents of the government that the regime doesn't tolerate criticism or street protests. The country has been split over charges that the presidential election earlier this year was rigged and a subsequent brutal crackdown on street protests.
"In Iran we have got freedom, more than what there is in America," Ahmadinejad claimed.
During the interview, the Iranian president was reminded about his promise to help release Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd. "Are you still going to do your best to set them free?" Sawyer asked.
"Yes," Ahmadinejad curtly replied. "But I have got a question to you. How do you know they have accidentally crossed into Iran? How do you know they were looking for waterfalls and forests?"
When Sawyer asked if there was evidence that the trio were anything but adventurous tourists, Ahmadinejad shot back, "Who has told you this? Are you a judge?"
Sawyer tried to reply, but Ahmadinejad cut her off. "Just let me finish. Have the intelligence agents told you this?"
Pressed on whether the Americans will go on trial, the Iranian president said, "I am not the judge to judge about it."
Despite Ahmadinejad's earlier statement that he would help in obtaining their release, Iran's foreign minister stated last week that Shourd, Bauer and Fattal will be put on trial, charged with espionage.
Hiker's Mom Made Christmas Appeal to Ahmadinejad
The Americans were arrested July 31 when they were found wandering on the Iranian side of the border after trekking through the mountainous region from a hotel in northern Iraq. They claimed that they were sightseers and didn't mean to cross the badly defined border in the area.
Bauer is a freelance journalist based in the Middle East and originally from Minnesota; Shourd is also based in the Middle East as a writer and teacher and is from California; and Fattal is an environmental worker from Oregon.
Shourd's mother, Nora Shourd, appealed last week to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to release her daughter and her two friends as a gesture in the days before Christmas.
Sawyer raised the issue of the hikers' families being in "enormous anguish" since they have been unable to visit them or speak to them. "Will you help arrange that?" Sawyer asked.
"We aren't happy about it either. We are unhappy about all prisoners. In America, there are 3.5 million prisoners. We are unhappy about all of them," Ahmadinejad said. Moments later he added, "I think they have corresponded......We should ask the judge. They might be able to do it."