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5 Ottobre 2008 | IRAN


Ahmadinejad: nel mio paese non avvengono esecuzioni di minori

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September 26, 2008

An Interview With President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad


On Sept. 25, 2008, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was interviewed by reporters and editors of The New York Times. The following is an edited transcript of the interview prepared by The New York Times. Ellipses are put in place of Koranic verses, missed words or exchanges devoid of content.

The New York Times: In about seven months you will be facing re-election, so what are you going to present to the people of Iran as your main accomplishments? Do you think they are going to vote against you because people are upset about the economy, about high inflation and high unemployment? There have been some questions asked in the Majlis [the name of Iran’s Parliament] and elsewhere about where the oil revenue of about $120 billion dollars has been spent?

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate .... We are indeed very glad to be able to discuss issues with one another. Our government has had numerous achievements in different sectors — cultural, economic and political sectors. It is true that the entire world is faced with economic problems today. It is only natural that Iran’s economy is affected. But Iran has had very rapid economic growth in some areas. We are in fact going through a period where we are experiencing a steady high level of economic growth. It’s true that there is also inflation, but we are preparing to curb it. Pretty much all over the world we can find that the absolute figure for inflation has doubled. It hasn’t yet doubled for us. I have very good relations with the Majlis. Our Majlis is a very free one. They express opinions on every issue.

Regarding the question you have asked where the oil revenue has gone, I have never heard that question asked from us .... Perhaps you are reading articles by some groups critical of the government in Iran. You can find a lot of those articles; they can say things. But our revenue is actually much higher than the figure you said. The oil revenue is part of the Iranian revenue. We have numerous other aspects to the revenue. We have tax revenues, customs revenues, revenues from our mineral resources, from fields and lands and also revenue from non-oil exports. According to Iranian law all the revenue that Iran receives should be held by the public treasury. All expenditures must be approved by the parliament and the parliament monitors expenditures and they prepare very clear reports which are also published annually. So this is the legal process.

NYT: Hasn’t Mr. [Hassan] Rohani published a letter asking where the oil revenues have gone? Hasn’t His Excellency the president replaced the central bank governor twice? All the oil-producing countries have experienced an unprecedented economic boom, and yet Iran still has high unemployment. I think there are a lot of questions raised inside Iran about how he has been running the economy?

President Ahmadinejad: Iran is a free country for people to express their opinion. I’m surprised you show such sensitivity to the domestic issues. Mr. Rohani is a free person in Iran who is free to express his views. Everyone is free to express what he or she wants whether for or against the government and there are in fact hundreds of opinions that in fact speak in favor of our policies. In fact unemployment rates are decreasing in Iran. Of course because of the high population growth in Iran, at a certain juncture of time employment generation became a challenge. I would say the problems facing you here in America are probably 10 times bigger than any facing Iran. Our problem is not so big for us to infuse the economy with 700 billion dollars, not even 70 billion dollars, not even 5 billion dollars.

It is only natural that managers at times change. That, too, happens everywhere in the world. We are about to embark on a new economic plan, so we need to establish an economic team that is well-coordinated, and that has happened now. These are all a natural part of running this economy. Do you think it is essential to discuss this bilaterally with you?

NYT: I’ve been to Iran a lot, and I know people work two jobs to survive and they really are angry about the economy. When you talk to Iranians it is the one thing that they really criticize the government for all the time.

President Ahmadinejad: Let’s wait a few months and see how people will vote in the elections. We are always constantly in touch with the people, we live together side by side. I invite you to make the trip with me to Iran, to visit Iran so you can hear what people say. There is a lot of freedom in Iran. They express themselves, they participate in elections, they hold rallies and gatherings. We are not too concerned, and neither should you be concerned.

NYT: The other economic point is the question of gasoline. We know that Iran is one of the largest oil-producing countries in the world, and yet it imports 40 percent of its gasoline. That is another thing that people get upset about. Why is it so high, and why don’t you invest more money in refineries, for example?

President Ahmadinejad: Are people really angry over this?

NYT: Yes, occasionally they riot and burn gas stations.

President Ahmadinejad: That is not the reason why they put those on fire. We are actually about to build seven additional refineries. Of course gasoline is used at very high rates in Iran because it is extremely cheap. The government pays a lot of money to afford that.

NYT: You said that human rights and freedom of expression exists in Iran and that people are very free, but there has been a lot of criticism of your human rights record. Iran leads the world now in juvenile executions — I believe more than 30 recently — and is now second only to China in executions over all. Why have you felt the need for this increased repression?

President Ahmadinejad: You have asked very good questions. In Iran youngsters are not executed. Where have they been executed? Our law actually sets 18 as the criminally liable age for capital punishment. So I don’t really know where you brought the number 30 from.

NYT: It was in a Human Rights Watch report. Behnam Zare?

President Ahmadinejad: Ah. Sometimes these figures get confused with the execution of drug traffickers. A large band of drug traffickers was actually executed in Iran, that is true. We have laws in Iran. People who carry more than a certain volume of drugs on them are subject to execution. It’s a very good measure. We are spending so that you can live a healthier life here. Please remember that several thousand members of our security forces have died as a result of combat with drug traffickers, in fact close to 4,000. These drug traffickers are not normally juveniles. Our penal code is in fact very strong and very advanced. In our legal procedures, every person had the right to five appeals, which is almost unique in the world. Let us also remember that a lot of the reaction given to Iran is politicized. That is why we don’t pay much attention to it. There are people who like to use this as a reason to put more pressure on Iran.

You must know that people in Iran love their country and like their government. For 30 years we’ve heard these kinds of statements made about the Iranian government. But at the same time 30 big elections have been held in the country. Annually at least two large demonstrations are held in the country during which almost 30 million people rally in support. Tomorrow on Friday is one such rally. The other is on the anniversary of the victory of the revolution in February.

The relationship between the people and the government in Iran has its own special nature. We live among the people, with people from all strata of society — students, university students, government employees, farmers, businessmen. There is really no restriction in our relations with the people. Our leader holds meetings in which people come and form a queue to ask questions directly. Everyone can come and ask those questions, very freely. There are no restrictions on it. The relationship between the government and the people in Iran is a very friendly one. All the people support their government. Of course there are people who criticize it or are against it, and that you find everywhere. But they are an absolute minority. We really don’t have a major problem in Iran with our people. We live with them, side by side. The entire government is elected by the people — the leadership, the government, the Parliament, everyone is elected somehow. So the points you raise are really highly politicized issues that matter most abroad outside Iran. Inside it is not the case that we talk about this all the time.

NYT: On another subject, you are a Persian; you are not an Arab. Your country has never directly at least fought a war with Israel, and yet you seem obsessed by the Jews. Why?

President Ahmadinejad: We have nothing to do with their business at all. Jewish people live in Iran; they have lived there historically. They have a representative in our Parliament. Although there are only 20,000 people, they still have one representative in Parliament. Whereas for the rest of the population you have a minimum requirement of 150,000 people to have one representative. So the Jewish people are treated just like everyone else, like the Christians and the Muslims and the Zoroastrians. They are respected. Everyone is respected.

The question is really over Zionism. Zionism is not Judaism. It is a political party. It is a very secretive political party, which is the root cause of insecurity and wars. For 60 years in our region people have been killed, they have been threatened for 60 years, they have been aggressed upon for 60 years. Several large wars have occurred. A large number of territories there are occupied. More than five million people have been displaced and become refugees. Women and children are attacked in their own homes. They demolish homes over the heads of women and children with bulldozer, in their own house, in their own homeland. These are not crimes that one can shut ones eyes to. We disagree with these criminal acts and we announce it loud and clear. The anger of the U.S. government does not prevent us from saying loud and clear what we think about these acts. As long as these crimes are not rooted out we will continue voicing our concern.

I am surprised that in your media there is hardly any attention to the human rights crimes committed by the Zionist regime, nor to the ongoing crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. NATO troops went to Afghanistan to establish security, but they just expanded insecurity. Terrorism has increased. The production of illicit drugs has multiplied. Some days there are 10 people killed, some days there are 100 people killed. Sometimes wedding ceremonies are bombarded and insecurity has now affected Pakistan as well. In the process of occupying Iraq over one million people have been killed, a lot of women and children, several million people have been displaced. Is there enough forces in America to represent those innocents who have been deprived of their rights innocently those countries?

There are seven billion people living on this planet, close to 200 countries. Why is it that politicians here in the United States only rise to defend the Zionists? What commitment forces the U.S. government to victimize itself in support of a regime that is basically a criminal one? We can’t understand it. When human rights are violated in Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo, how come there is just not enough attention given to it? In a lot of countries that are friends of the United States there are vast human rights violations. Human rights has become completely politicized with multiple standards that apply to different parts of the world. I would like to repeat myself: People in Iran like their government. You will see in the election.

NYT: Can we ask about relations with the U.S. government, and in particular whether under a new U.S. administration there would be any possibility of a grand bargain?

President Ahmadinejad: I have said many times that we would like to have good relations with everyone, including the United States. But these relations must be based on justice, fairness and mutual respect. Whenever the U.S. government declares its commitment to these fundamental principles, we will be ready to talk, even though we are very saddened by the behavior of the U.S. government. U.S. administrations have really misbehaved with our people. They have really acted in a misguided way with our people in the last 50 years or so. There is a long list of these misguided policies .... But once the American government states its commitment to the principles of fairness and mutual respect, then we don’t see any problems talking.

One can embark on a new period for talks. I’ve said that our absolute principle for these talks are fairness and mutual respect. We helped in Afghanistan. The result of that assistance was Mr. Bush directly threatening us with a military attack. For six years he has been engaged in similar talk against us. Next time around we need to take more measured steps, more firm steps. Of course wherever we can help ease the pain of people we will continue co-operating in those areas.

NYT: The Bush administration is considering a proposal to open an interests section in Tehran. Is this something that you could agree to?

President Ahmadinejad: I have announced before that we will look at the proposal with a positive frame of mind.

NYT: Have they discussed it with you in any way?

President Ahmadinejad: There has been no official request made.

NYT: Could you talk about how you perceive the U.S. election. Do you see any difference between the two candidates?

President Ahmadinejad: What do you think?

NYT: I am more interested in what you think.

President Ahmadinejad: Vice versa .... We do not interfere in domestic affairs here in the United States. We believe that an election is something that is the right of the people here in the United States. People here must decide for themselves.

But we hope that whoever is elected will start a new path on their exchanges with others. We do believe whoever comes to office has to take care of two issues.

The first is to restrict the scope of America’s interventions abroad to the geography of this country alone. These interventions have caused instability and insecurity around the globe. And place enormous financial pressure on the American people as well as people around the world. Nobody has invited the U.S. government to be the head of the global village. The early founders of the United States chanted slogans that demonstrated their single desire to assist people within America. You need to solve the problems of the people of this country within the geographic boundary of this country itself. Look at the neglect of these American concerns that have been replaced by an over concern by what goes on abroad and the country’s military budget is increasing every year. Maybe if the American government had not gotten so involved abroad there would have been more peace and security in the world and more welfare for the American people today. The economic crisis here today is now hurting the whole world. It probably would have been better if this enormous expenditure had been used to improve the welfare of the people, bringing more health and education to people in this country. Had that been done more than 100,000 Afghanis and more than one million Iraqis would still be alive. People in America would not have had these problems, banks here would not have gone bankrupt. The government would not be considering infusing 700 billion dollars into these large corporations. We think the world can indeed be managed better. So we believe that whoever becomes president must focus on removing the problems here at home and focus on achieving the welfare of the American people.

The second issue they must give attention to is to fix relations with Iran. That answers your question. We hope whoever is elected brings about real fundamental changes.

NYT: On the question of fixing problems at home instead of working abroad, sometimes in Iran you hear criticism—particularly when I was there after the earthquake in 1990 and in Bam after the earthquake. Iranians always say, “Why are we sending money to Palestine, why are we sending money to Hamas and Hezbollah? We should be rebuilding our houses at home.” So does what applies to the United States also apply to Iran?

President Ahmadinejad: I really want to thank you for caring so much for the Iranian people .... I am an Iranian. I live with the Iranian people. Iranians know best how to fix their problems.

NYT: You talk about fixing relations with the United States. At the core of that disrupted relationship is the nuclear question. India, Pakistan, North Korea, they all have nuclear programs, they have all made accommodations with the United States in some way and they have benefited from it. So why don’t you just suspend enrichment, you don’t have to end your program you can just suspend it, you have made a lot of progress, and just take the incentives that the six powers have offered?

President Ahmadinejad: I believe I answered your question before. Who has invited the United States and its allies to determine how others should live or that others should seek their permission first if they want to do something?

NYT: But there is a United Nations mandate that Iran should stop enrichment?

President Ahmadinejad: The United Nations is completely under the pressure of the U.S. administration. Head of the I.A.E.A. told me personally that he is under pressure.

NYT: But the Chinese and the Russians, who are allies of yours, have gone along with it?

President Ahmadinejad: It doesn’t matter, it has no connection with the relationship that the United States has established with the agency. We believe that behaviors should change. If they don’t, problems won’t get resolved. If the U.S. wants and likes something for itself they should like it for us, too.

Actually the question in our mind is that the U.S. has good relations with countries that have the atomic bomb and bad relations with countries like us who are simply pursuing peaceful nuclear energy. It was one of the biggest blunders of the U.S. government to cease its relations with Iran. I recall vividly that when the U.S. president at the time announced on television that the United States would cease relations with Iran, it seemed that the United States expected that the government of Iran would soon disappear. That did not happen.

Iran is a very big country, with very big people, with a very big culture. So it is not easy to bring about a downfall of Iran with these kinds of actions. Iran’s economy is 100 times larger than what it was back then. Scientifically it has advanced at least 100 times. So we think the U.S. government was mistaken to break those ties, like many other mistakes. Can you just point to one good decision in the international arena in the past 30 or 50 years that the American government has taken. It is mistake after mistake.

The conditions of the world today are the result of the American management of the world. Do you like this what you see? An arms race, threats, increased gap in income, extreme poverty, continuous wars. We don’t want all this. We like to have friendships. I really don’t think that the American people like what they see either. If the American people had the chance to truly express themselves they would definitely express opposition to how the world has been run. Nobody likes wars or acts of terror or occupation or threats. All people are the same. The American and Iranian people are the same too. They don’t like acts of aggression and they do not like to be humiliated.

NYT: In Afghanistan you had previously cooperated with the United States. There has been a resurgence of the Taliban who were very violent toward the Shiites, does that concern you and is that a possible route to cooperate with the United States again?

President Ahmadinejad: I think that I have responded to that already. The U.S. government and NATO do not understand Afghanistan well and they are not managing it well. You said yourself extremism has increased. Who is responsible for it? Whose management is responsible and accountable? Obviously those who have stationed military troops in Afghanistan today. They are also unwilling to hear advice from others. They simply think that all problems can be fixed with military might and bombs and guns. That is wrong by itself. In Afghanistan with the level of human calamity a humanitarian approach must be adopted. Otherwise extremism will be on the rise again and next time NATO won’t be able to stop it. Although we also have very concise information that some members of NATO are also in touch with these extremists. And this complicates matters further.

NYT: You border on the Caucasus, so what is your opinion about what happened in Georgia, and is it a concern of yours?

President Ahmadinejad: Similar things have happened around the Georgian crisis. We believe that NATO did not have a good analysis of the situation on the ground in Georgia. And some Zionist elements and groups — [The Georgian president, Mikheil] Saakashvili was encouraged to attack, and he made a mistake. Border disputes with one’s neighbors cannot be fixed with wars. They should have managed the dispute, so we are unhappy with what happened. We have historical ties with the people of Georgia, and historical ties with the Russians. If NATO stops interfering the issues can be resolved on a regional basis. The problem arises when external groups try to intervene. Efforts to try to besiege Russia or Iran — the whole calculation is wrong. This behavior belongs to bygone days. Those days are over. Issues must be fixed with constructive cooperation, with dialogue with all. For the United States to try through colorful revolutions to alter the political landscape of countries in that region is a miscalculation. Even 5-year-old kids understand the plans here by the United States. For the people in the region this is a joke. I think if they stop intervening the people in the Caucasus know well how to re-establish security on their own.

NYT: Do you support Russia’s decisions to send troops into Georgia?

President Ahmadinejad: We never support conflicts. We always prefer dialogue and negotiations. We are unhappy with what happened there. We sincerely believe that the Georgian government could have managed the situation there to prevent this conflict. But unfortunately it was encouraged. It is young itself. It doesn’t have a very long political experience. So it was encouraged. So now things are complicated and we are not happy about it. It was in the news that about 6,000 people lost their lives. I mean 6,000 people. Six thousand people are no longer around. Their families have been broken. Many children lost fathers or mothers. Or people who lost their children. This is terrible. Who is to respond to it? We are unhappy.

NYT: As you know the level of violence is quite a bit down in Iraq. Do you think that is progress or do you think it cannot last?

President Ahmadinejad: We believe that Iraq’s internal problems and issues belong to the Iraqi people. Iraq is a country with a long history. People in Iraq will be able to find a resolution to their problems. Whatever choice they make we’ll respect .... You are absolutely correct, the situation there has calmed tremendously, luckily. And we assisted a lot. I think for this to remain a permanent condition will have a lot to do and depend on how the American troops operate over there. In every sector where security has been handed over to the Iraqi government things are calmer and managed better. So we believe that if full responsibility is — in a very reasonable and logical framework — handed over to the Iraqi government the whole situation will be managed far better. It seems that on this particular issue we agree. So I certainly hope that the exigencies of the time here in the United States will not create new conditions whereby the United States will decide to alter the current trend. We will soon see the establishment of full security, God willing. In that everyone will come out a winner.

NYT: You know you said earlier people weren’t angry with the Iranian government when they burned gas stations, but you didn’t explain why they did burn them?

President Ahmadinejad: I owe you one for later.


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