An interview with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Editor's note: This interview originally appeared in Der Spiegel.
By Dieter Bednarz, Erich Follath and Georg Mascolo
April 14, 2009 | Mr. President, so far you have traveled to the United States four times to attend the General Assembly of the United Nations. What is your impression of America and the Americans?
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, I am pleased to be able to welcome you to Tehran once again, after our extensive conversation almost three years ago. Now on the USA: Of course, one cannot get to know a country like the United States in short visits, but my speech and the discussions at Columbia University were very special to me. I am quite aware that a distinction must be drawn between the American government and the American people. We do not hold Americans accountable for the faulty decisions of the Bush administration. They want to live in peace, like we all do.
The new U.S. president, Barack Obama, directed a video address to the Iranian nation three weeks ago, during the Iranian New Year festival. Did you watch the speech?
Yes. Great things are happening in the United States. I believe that the Americans are in the process of initiating important developments.
How did you feel about the speech?
Ambivalent. Some passages were new, while some repeated well-known positions. I thought it striking that Obama attached such high value to the Iranian civilization, our history and culture. It is also positive that he stresses mutual respect and honest interactions with one another as the basis of cooperation. In one segment of his speech, he says that a nation's standing in the world does not depend solely on weapons and military strength, which is precisely what we told the previous American administration. George W. Bush's big mistake was that he wanted to solve all problems militarily. The days are gone when a country can issue orders to other peoples. Today, mankind needs culture, ideas and logic.
What does that mean?
We feel that Obama must now follow his words with actions.
President Obama, who has called your aggressive anti-Israeli remarks "disgusting," has nevertheless spoken of a new beginning in relations with Iran and extended his hand to you.
I haven't understood Obama's comments quite that way. I pay attention to what he says today. But that is precisely where I see a lack of something decisive. What leads you to talk about a new beginning? Have there been any changes in American policy? We welcome changes, but they have yet to occur.
You are constantly making demands. But the truth is: Your policies, Iran's disastrous relations with the United States, are a burden on the global community and a threat to world peace. Where is your contribution to the easing of tensions?
I have already explained this to you. We support talks on the basis of fairness and respect. That has always been our position. We are waiting for Obama to announce his plans, so that we can analyze them.
And that's all?
We have to wait and see what Obama wants to do.
The world sees this differently. Iran must act. Iran must now show goodwill.
Where is this world you are talking about? What do we have to do? You are aware that we are not the ones who severed relations with America. America cut off relations with us. What do you expect from Iran now?
Concrete steps, or at least a gesture on your part.
I have already answered that question. Washington cut off relations.
Are you saying that you would welcome a resumption of relations with the United States?
What do you think? What has to happen? Which approach is the right one?
The world expects answers from you, not from us.
But I sent a message to the new U.S. president. It was a big step, a huge step. I congratulated him on his election victory, and I said a few things to him in my letter. This was done with care. We have been and continue to be interested in significant changes taking place. If we intend to resolve the problem between our two countries, it is important to recognize that Iran did not play a role in the development of this problem. The behavior of American administrations was the cause. If the behavior of the United States changes, we can expect to see important progress …
… that could lead to a resumption of diplomatic relations, perhaps even to the reopening of the U.S. embassy, which was occupied in 1979, the year of the revolution?
We have not received an official request in this regard yet. If this happens, we will take a position on the matter. This is not a question of form. Fundamental changes must take place, to the benefit of all parties. The American government must finally learn lessons from the past.
But you should not?
Everyone must learn from the past.
Then please tell us which lessons you are learning.
We have been under pressure for the past 30 years, unfairly and without fault on our part. We have done nothing …
… according to you. Americans see things quite a bit differently. The 444-day hostage crisis during which 50 U.S. citizens were held from late 1979 until early 1981 in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran is still a collective American trauma today.
But think of the things that were done to Iranians! We were attacked by Iraq. Eight years of war. America and some European countries supported this aggression. We were even attacked with chemical weapons and [Western countries] aided and abetted those attacks. We did not inflict an injustice on anyone. We did not attack anyone, nor did we occupy other countries. We have no military presence in Europe and America. But troops from Europe and America are stationed along our borders.
The Western governments are convinced that Iran supports terrorist organizations and that Iran has had dissidents killed abroad. Perhaps mistakes were not just made by the one side?
Do you wish to imply that the troops are deployed along our borders because we allegedly support terrorist organizations?
We neither said nor implied that. But the accusation of support for terrorism has been made. Where is your constructive contribution?
First of all: We do not commit terror, but we are victims of terror. After the revolution, our president and prime minister were killed in a bombing attack in the building adjacent to my office. Our faith forbids us from engaging in terrorism. And when it comes to the constructive contributions we are being asked to make, we have contributed to stabilization in both Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years. While we were making these contributions, the Bush administration accused us of doing the opposite. Do you believe that problems can be solved with military force and invasion? Wasn't the strategy employed by America and NATO wrong from the start? We have always said that this is not the way to fight terrorists. They are stronger than ever today.