'This Week' Transcript: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Exclusive Interview Between ABC's George Stephanopoulos and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Sunday, April 26, 2009 —

STEPHANOPOULOS: During the last administration, no other world leader next to you was as critical of the American administration as Mr. Chavez. Yet, look at this picture right here.

Is this a picture that you would like to see, you and President Obama? And what do you think the Iranian people would think of you and President Obama meeting, shaking hands, engaging in conversation?

AHMADINEJAD: Well, we are calling for peace and security for all. We would like international relations to be based on justice and friendship. Wherever a hostile relationship turns into friendship, that would make us happy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: President Obama says that's exactly what he wants right now. He says he wants a new beginning in a relationship with Iran. He sent a message to the Iranian people on the occasion of the Nowruz holiday where he called Iran a great civilization.

He talked about the Islamic Republic of Iran, where he signaled that he wasn't interested in regime change, and he talked about his vision for the United States/Iranian relationship.

OBAMA: It's a future where the old divisions are overcome, where you and all of your neighbors and the wider world can live in greater security and greater peace".

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you share that vision?

AHMADINEJAD: You need to appreciate that the American administration, 29 years ago, unilaterally cut its relations with Iran. In the past 29 years, different U.S. administrations have opposed the Iranian people. Now they say that we have given up that enmity. That's fine.

We have welcomed such comments. But an administration which, up until yesterday, was saying that I'm going to kill you, and today says that I'm not going to kill you, is that sufficient?

STEPHANOPOULOS: So there is change, though. What will Iran do in response? The United States has said that the United States is ready to talk with Iran and the other great powers -- Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

Are you prepared to sit down at those talks without preconditions?

AHMADINEJAD: Well, previously, first of all, I sent a congratulatory message to Mr. Obama. This was a major decision, although the Iranian people were very much dismayed with the conduct of previous U.S. administrations. And I was criticized here at home, in Iran.

Nevertheless, I did that. I am yet to receive a response.

With the European group and the American group, we will talk. We have announced as much that we are going to negotiate. But...

STEPHANOPOULOS: When will you join those talks?

AHMADINEJAD: ... again, based on justice and mutual respect.

Well, after everything is said and done -- well, planning needs to be made and timetables need to be set.

We believe in talking, in negotiating, based on sincerity and respect and justice. But the U.S. administration severed its relations with us.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that was the past administration. And now President Obama said he is prepared to sit down along with the other European powers without any preconditions. And it sounds to me as if you're suggesting now Iran is the one with the preconditions echoing in fact the policy of the last U.S. administration.

Are there preconditions or not? Why not sit down right now with the U.S. and the European powers to discuss the nuclear program?

AHMADINEJAD: Last year we proposed a package of proposals for talks, everyone knows that in this year many changes, developments have unfolded on the international stage. Many new issues have been added to the agenda, so to speak.

And we are reconsidering our proposed package. We are adding new issues to the realm, if you will, of the talks. And we are going to make that public as soon as possible. We are always ready to talk...


AHMADINEJAD: ... with no preconditions.

What should I do?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Tell me your proposal.

AHMADINEJAD: Should I share that with you, sir?

STEPHANOPOULOS: The world, American viewers.

AHMADINEJAD: We are going to do that officially. We think that we should prepare the ground so that all states and peoples can have their say. We are ready to contribute to international security, peace, and global friendship and global disarmament.

STEPHANOPOULOS: you say you want to talk on the basis of respect, the president has expressed his respect for the Islamic Republic of Iran. And he said he is ready to talk.

I just want to know, when will Iran sit down with the United States and the European powers to discuss the nuclear program?

AHMADINEJAD: Well, the nuclear issue of ours is a special issue. We think that the nuclear issue needs to be resolved in the context of the agency and regulations. we are just utilizing our legal rights.

I have no reservations when it comes to talking.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're ready to talk without preconditions?

AHMADINEJAD: No, no. We should just have a clear-cut framework for talks. The agenda should be clear.

But so far we have only heard this from the media, the newspapers, that they're interested in talking. And obviously they're going to receive a response from the papers. I was fully expecting Mr. Obama to participate in the Geneva Conference. What issue is more important than racial discrimination?

The United Nations has organized...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, sir, since you bring that up...

AHMADINEJAD: ... such a conference. I don't think or believe that Mr. Obama supports racism. However, the gentleman should have been there and should have condemned outright racism and racial discrimination.

This is a good possibility for talks and cooperation. We should all cooperate with one another to help...

STEPHANOPOULOS: What he doesn't...

AHMADINEJAD: ... racism to go away from the international...

STEPHANOPOULOS: What he doesn't agree...


STEPHANOPOULOS: If I may -- excuse me, sir, if I may express his position, is the idea that Israel is a racist state.

OBAMA: " I found many of the statements that President Ahmadinejad made, particularly those directed at Israel, to be appalling.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, frankly, many in the West look at your speech in Geneva. And they wonder whether you really do want a better relationship with the West when you deny that there was a Holocaust when it's an established historical fact, they believe that you're not showing respect for the West and the beliefs of the West.

AHMADINEJAD: When I was talking against the Zionist regime in the racism conference, the first proviso for successful talks would be to give the other party the freedom to speak. Mr. Obama has the right to have his own opinion, obviously.

He is ready to express his points of view. But the Geneva conference had been organized to combat racism, to oppose racism. My point of view is that the Zionist regime is the manifestation of racism.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet when you speak at that conference, Western diplomats walk out. Even the U.N. secretary-general condemns your remarks.

AHMADINEJAD: That's fine! That's fine! They are free to have their own points of view. Why do they want to deny me my ideas

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why do you insist on questioning the Holocaust even when it's established as a historical fact and even when politicians here in Iran worry that kind of talk isolates Iran?

AHMADINEJAD: I'm going to talk about that as well. Don't be hasty. I have posed two questions over Holocaust.

My first question was, if the Holocaust happened, where did it take place? In Europe. Why should they make amends in Palestine? The Palestinian people had no role to play in the Holocaust. They had no role, for that matter, in the Second World War.

Racism happened in Europe, the amends are made in Palestine?

My second question about the Holocaust, if this is indeed a historical event, why do they want to turn it into a holy thing? And nobody should be allowed to ask any questions about that? Nobody study it, research it, permit it to research it. Why?

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's the most studied historical event in history.

AHMADINEJAD: If this is a historically documented event, why do Western states show so much sensitivity towards a historical event? They do not want the lid to be taken off. I am asking them to permit studies.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talking about something that's happening right now. President Obama has appointed Senator George Mitchell to help negotiate a peace between Israel and Palestine. Do you support that effort?

AHMADINEJAD: Well, we are asking for the legal rights of the Palestinian people. What we are saying is that the Palestinian people like other peoples have the right to determine their own fate. Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. We should -- they should allow them to engage in elections, free elections and a free referendum to determine for themselves their own fate.

We must not repeat the mistakes of the past.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you believe President Obama's new effort is repeating the mistakes of the past?

AHMADINEJAD: Well? I am yet to have a clear idea about Mr. Obama's Palestinian policy. However, the gentleman's support of the massacre of Gazans in support for the criminals who were responsible for that atrocity was a major mistake on the part of the gentleman. I think that if Mr. Obama wants to help with the Palestinian issue, he has to move in accordance with justice, fair play and also, again, I am calling for the right for the Palestinians to determine their own fate.

STEPHANOPOULOS: If the Palestinian people negotiate an agreement with Israel and the Palestinian people vote and support that agreement, a two state solution, will Iran support it?

AHMADINEJAD: Nobody should interfere, allow the Palestinian people to decide for themselves. Whatever they decide.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's all I'm asking.

AHMADINEJAD: It is the right of all human beings.

STEPHANOPOULOS: If they choose a two state solution with Israel, that's fine.

AHMADINEJAD: Well, what we are saying is that you and us should not determine the course of things beforehand. Allow the Palestinian people to make their own decisions.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if they choose a two state solution, if they choose to recognize Israel's existence, Iran will as well?

AHMADINEJAD; Let me approach this from another perspective. If the Palestinians decide that the Zionist regime needs to leave all Palestinian lands, would the American administration accept their decision? Will they accept this Palestinian point of view?

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll ask them. But I'm asking you if Palestinians accept the existence of Israel, would Iran support that?

AHMADINEJAD: Can I ask you questions as well?

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not part of the American government. I'll put that question to the American government.

AHMADINEJAD: I'm asking that people vote.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But I have a question for you as president of Iran.

AHMADINEJAD: That's fine!

STEPHANOPOULOS: If the Palestinians sign an agreement with Israel, will Iran support it?

AHMADINEJAD: Whatever decision they take is fine with us. We are not going to determine anything. Whatever decision they take, we will support that. We think that this is the right of the Palestinian people, however we fully expect other states to do so as well.

The U.S. administration, European governments. The right to determine their fate by the Palestinians should be respected by all of them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask one final question. You are up for election on June 12. If you are successful in this reelection, what is your hope for the Iranian-U.S. relationship over the next four years?

AHMADINEJAD: Well, Iran and U.S. relations are dependent on the decision taken by the U.S. administration. Mr. Obama sends us messages of friendship but in the communique issued by the five plus one, enmity can be seen. So this is a dual route, if you will.

I have sent a message to Mr. Obama myself. We welcome change. We are praying to the All Mighty for that. And we will help to bring change about.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. President, thank you very much for your time.

AHMADINEJAD: Thank you. Good luck. And please convey my regards to the American people.