Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is facing mounting problems at home, from disgruntled hardliners and senior clerics to continued criticism from the Green Movement opposition. Perhaps more dire, the Iranian president may need to cut $100 billion in government subsidies, partly as a result of this summer’s new sanctions, aimed at forcing Iran to come clean on its nuclear programs. But in New York last week for the U.N. General Assembly, he remained defiant. He sat down with NEWSWEEK’s Jerry Guo in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
Are you ready to return to negotiating a nuclear-fuel swap?
We have always been prepared to talk. In order to talk the other party must define what its positions are, whether it’s to further friendship and understanding or to further hostilities. Also they must announce their position that the Zionist regime holds nuclear bombs and whether they oppose or favor it. The response they give will determine the types of talks that will be carried out. We are in favor of talks. But it’s clear that the way these talks are handled will be different whether we perceive if we are talking to friends or foes.
Israel is increasingly concerned. If it were to bomb any of your alleged nuclear weapons sites, how would your government respond?
It could be a concern, but does that mean they could attack us? Do they even have the ability to? I invite you to come to Iran. You will see for yourself that it is a very large and vast country, far more vast than the ability of the Zionists to even imagine or perceive. So it is impossible for that scenario to unfold. So we do not even count on calculating it in our decisions.
What have been the impacts of the latest round of economic sanctions against Iran?
Sanctions do not impact Iran’s economy. In fact they don’t have a negative impact. The impact it does have is a positive one. It creates a new opportunity for Iran to have faster economic growth by pushing our own industries.
A Newsweek Starter Kit explains why it took the Security Council so much time to sanction Iran.
Tehran’s chief prosecutor said last week that Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, opposition candidates who have continued to be critical of your regime, will be arrested.
I am unaware, and we will have to see what [the judiciary’s] position is. I don’t think personally that they would have any problems. I don’t anticipate any problems for them.
So you do not believe they should be charged with any crimes?
I have no opinion on the subject. In Iran, everyone is equal before the law, and the two gentleman, like all Iranians, enjoy equal rights before the law. There is a chance when you delve into journalism you might read much more into these than what the realities on the ground suggest.
But despite your frequent claim that everyone enjoys equal rights, why have so many newspapers critical of your policies been shut down?
No newspaper has been shut down as a result of criticizing the government. We have a legal system that applies to these issues in Iran. The judiciary is independent and carries out these cases. Having said that, all people and entities are equal before the law.
Then do you know the reasons why prominent newspapers like Etemad Melli, Etemad, and Hayat-e No—just three of dozens of opposition publications shuttered in the last year—have been closed?
I am unaware of the details of those cases.
Would you consider revising the Constitution to run for a third term?
No. You cannot change the Constitution for one person. The Constitution is there to stay. And it’s not necessary or needed either because there are a lot of qualified people in Iran.