EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the full interview and accompanying transcript of CNN's Christiane Amanpour's conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST: Mr. President, welcome. Welcome to the program. Thank you for joining us.
PRES. HASSAN ROUHANI, IRAN (through translator): I thank your program and you for preparing this interview.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you what it feels like to be what some people have called the "it" man of this UNGA? Highly anticipated. You seem to be the focus of attention, and unusually, for Iranian presidents, people are looking at you with some, at least cautious optimism. What does it feel like to be in this position?
ROUHANI: Before beginning to respond to your question, I would like to actually say my greetings to the people of America, who are very dear and near to the hearts of the Iranian people and to wish them a good time and good times ahead. Now, for any president, in order to use an opportunity to the benefit of others, would require him to use the platform given by his people to project that in places such as specifically the United Nations. Therefore, I am glad that this opportunity has been presented to me to transport the views of my people to the representatives of other governments and other nations who have gathered here.
AMANPOUR: There was a lot of expectation, maybe too high expectations, that you and President Obama might at least shake hands today at the United Nations. Nobody thought there was going to be a formal meeting, but perhaps that you would at least say hello, shake hands, break the ice. But you didn't. Why didn't you?
ROUHANI: There were some talks about it, in fact, to perhaps have - arrange for a meeting between President Obama and myself, so that given the opportunity, we can talk with each other. And the preparation for the work was done a bit, as well. The United States declared its interest in having such a meeting. And in principle, Iran could have, under certain circumstances, allowed for it to happen. But I believe that we didn’t have sufficient time to really coordinate the meeting to the full extent that we needed to. But speaking of the ice-breaking that you mentioned, in my opinion, the rift is already there. It's already beginning to break, because the environment is changing. And that has come about as a result of the will of the people of Iran to create a new era of relations between the people of Iran and the rest of the world. Our hope, our expectation, in fact, indeed is that all nations, and in this nation, as well, will response positively to the people of Iran.
AMANPOUR: Are you authorized to start talking, negotiating, with the United States? Are you authorized by the supreme leader back in Iran?
ROUHANI: I think that the president of Iran has the authority wherever which - where - wherever the national interests of the country are involved and when it is necessary and expedient and required to speak and talk with others in order to promote the rights of its nation that the president can take that initiative.
Now, we have to remember that when it comes to the United States, for 35 years, there has been no relations between the two countries, between Iran and the United States. The - the higher officials of the two countries have never spoken with one another, especially at a level of president. You know, they have for two presidents to sit down, this has not happened for 35 years. So necessarily, we must give time for diplomacy to - to work itself, for dialogue to come about, to - for circumstances to be laid properly. The supreme leader of Iran has said that should negotiations be necessary for the national interests of the country that he, in fact, is not opposed to it. He has specifically mentioned in a recent talk that he is not optimistic regarding the issue of talks with the United States, but when it comes to specific issues that, um, government officials may speak with their American counterparts.
Now, if an opportunity was created today, had risen today, and the prep work for that had been done, most possibly the talks would have shaped and taken place, primarily focused on the nuclear issue or on developments on the Middle East. And therefore, the supreme leader has, I can tell you, given the permission for my government to freely negotiate on these issues.
AMANPOUR: So you do have that authorization?
AMANPOUR: President Obama, today, in his speech to the United Nations, said that he had authorized and placed Secretary John Kerry at the head of the negotiating team. They're going to meet with your foreign minister, Mr. Zarif, in terms of the nuclear issue.
Are there other issues, too, bilateral issues, that you can start discussing, or your representatives, with the United States, or is it just nuclear, and, as you said, other Middle Eastern issues?
ROUHANI: There are numerous issues that could be discussed by the two governments. But my principle has been from the outset that the nuclear issue can be an important test for the two governments to fulfill their negotiations and - and to reap the benefits of it. So for the benefit of both nations, I believe that both our priority and perhaps possibly the priority of the other side, the United States, is the nuclear issue. If the nuclear issue is settled conclusively, I believe that that will pave the way for numerous other issues that can be discussed based on a priority basis by the two sides.
AMANPOUR: You spoke in your address to the General Assembly about a peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue.
Can you give me the framework, the principles of what you would see as the possibility of a deal?
ROUHANI: On the nuclear issue, the first point is that the entire world must recognize that Iran does not seek a nuclear weapon, nor shall it seek a nuclear weapon. Iran rejects weapons of mass destruction based on its belief system, its religious belief system, as well as well as its ethical standpoint. And you're well aware that the supreme leader has, in fact, issued a decree that bans the production and the stockpiling of any weapons of mass destruction, specifically the nuclear weapon, as being haram.
Therefore, it is our position that the world must understand that there has been a lot of negative propaganda, in fact, in this area, that has pointed fingers at us. But Iran does not seek nuclear weapons. But at the same time, it would insist that it will seek its rights like any other nation within the framework of international law and exert an - you know, exert its will to fulfill those rights for its nation.
Therefore, as long as it is under the preamble of international law, then, well, I believe such understanding can be achieved between us and the rest of the world. But not under pressure or sanctions.
AMANPOUR: You say - and you've said many times, and every Iranian president has said it, and so has the supreme leader said it, that Iran does not want nuclear weapons.
However, you know the issue is a confidence issue and that, frankly, many people don't believe it. They want to know what you can do to raise the confidence level. As you know, sir, every U.N. resolution uses the word confidence. It's all about confidence.
So what can you specifically do?
What is Iran prepared to do to inspire confidence in its nuclear program?
You say that you want to retain the right to enrichment.
What can you do for transparency?
Are you prepared to go even further than what the NPT demands and go to even further transparency under that?
ROUHANI: You see, confidence is possible through two ways. The first path is the legal path, which means a recognition of international rules and laws and to follow those.
Why was the agency or the IAEA created?
It was created to build confidence to - for the world community based on its supervisory system. You are aware that all of Iran's nuclear materials are calculated by the milligram under the auspices of the IAEA. And this is the first step to gain world confidence is to recognize that the IAEA should be fully in control of the nuclear material of all countries.
We have actually signed the safeguards agreement and that was concluded and enforced and is being enforced on an ongoing basis with the IAEA, because their inspectors are routinely coming to Iran and checking our facilities and their cameras are all over and they record all the activities.
So the legal confidence path, so to say, is really the path of the NPT and the safeguards and the promotion of those to allow the countries of the world to engage in peaceful nuclear activities, while, at the same time, building confidence and assuring that there is no deviation.
The IAEA, after hundreds of hours of numerous inspections and continual work, did, in 2004, issue a clear resolution clearly stating that there was no evidence, with regards to Iran's nuclear program, of a deviation to that program. And that resolution was actually endorsed and approved by all members of the board of directors of the IAEA, including the United States of America.
So the agency felt that its inspections were sufficient and strong enough that it could say that it had no evidence that there was any deviation.
Now, the second path for confidence is - is really a political path, when there are no ties between two countries, where the two countries are not talking and negotiating with one another, it's possible that some lack of confidence could emerge.
Our discussions with the P5-plus-1 has actually aimed to look into the details of the issues and through the agreements that Iran and the P5-plus-1 can attain, create not only a legal, but also a political confidence.
Therefore, talking with and negotiating with the IAEA is certainly the best confidence we can give to the world and to the world's public opinion. And remember, this comes from a country that was the victim of weapons of mass destruction itself.
AMANPOUR: Will you freeze enrichment at 20 percent?
Will you trade your existing 20 percent enriched fuel for - for buying it or accessing it from outside the country?
ROUHANI: These are talks that countries will engage with through negotiations. What we can announce through the press to the world, is that Iran, like all countries, believes in its rights for peaceful nuclear pursuits. And therefore, whatever prerogative or authority that any other country has in this realm, so does Iran. And there should be no difference or discrimination in this regard.
Now, what - as to what we would do on a temporary basis or later, these are the issues that need to be placed on the table for negotiations and an agreement for - over them.
AMANPOUR: One of the confidence issues is the, uh, the facility at Fordow near Qom. One of the reasons that the world is very suspicious is because it was a fait accompli before it was declared.
So the question is, would you close the Fordow plant?
ROUHANI: What difference is there between the Fordow plant with other enrichment plants?
Fordow is one of other - many other centers in which enrichment does take place, such as Natanz. In Natanz, enrichment takes place. In Fordow there is an enrichment program, as well.
So why is there such sensitivity on the question of Fordow?
I believe that was - may have perhaps allowed - let to Fordow to become activated along with Natanz. And I would urge you to recall that over a year ago Iran also announced that 10 other sites, such as Natanz and Fordow, would be built.
Um, so what now is creating pressure over Fordow is really the threats that have culminated into this question over Fordow. When threat happens it actually violates any principle of negotiation which says come to the table because we want to talk.
There's only one issue on the table as far as Iran is concerned, and it reflects the same confidence that you spoke of. That is to come to the negotiating table to negotiate every - to negotiate.
But there shouldn't be any prerequisite to build that confidence, to sit at the table. If that prerequisite is a threat of military action, that, to us, implies that the negotiations are not for real.
So if we speak of confidence, confidence must be mutual for certainty. This is the foundation of confidence building. It’s foundation to be created by both sides. And it should be built by both sides. The building of confidence cannot be built unilaterally.
Therefore, there's no difference between our various enrichment sites. The key issue is to negotiate and to see how we can build confidence through negotiations and that should be mutual, to see what confidence they can give us and what confidence we can give them.
AMANPOUR: What about the Arak heavy water facility where people are worried that you could start extracting plutonium. That's yet another danger and a - a worry for the - for the rest of the world. It's due to come online perhaps in the spring.
Will you delay putting it online, the Arak facility?
ROUHANI: You are aware that the Arak site is there to meet the medicinal needs of our country and that was the case, and from the outset, when we announced the site. Therefore, as long as Arak becomes operational, there is still a significant amount of time left until it actually becomes fully operational.
Now, it is possible that in the future, such talks could take place between Iran and the P5-plus-1 on such issues. But so far, the issue of Arak - Arak was never on the negotiating table.
AMANPOUR: But it could be?
ROUHANI: Anything is possible in negotiations. We can - it's possible to talk about anything.
AMANPOUR: In - in - in broad, what is it that you're willing to do to inspire confidence?
I know I've asked you this already, but I don't hear you saying - I don't - maybe I don't understand, but clearly what people want is full transparency.
So is Iran, yes or no, willing to give that level of confidence, that there is no doubt that what you say you're doing, you're actually doing?
ROUHANI: Over 40 countries have enrichment capacities. And many of them have ongoing enrichment operations.
What is the difference between Iran and those countries?
There are countries that have not even accepted the NPT or even agreed to work with the IAEA.
But Iran has accepted and is committed to the NPT. Iran has accepted and committed itself to the safeguards agreement. All of its activities are under the supervision of the IAEA.
Therefore this issue of confidence and if Iran is a threat or not falls into two categories: propaganda in - in that category, when some decide to say that Iran is a threat or a danger, they'll keep on saying it no matter.
And on the second level, there are regional concerns. We are willing to allay some of those regional concerns, not suspicions in the name of concerns.
there is - there are suspicions of concerns that the press and the propaganda around it talks about. And it has no value to us.
But if a regional country, within the region, has concerns, the P5-plus-1 is a venue able to alleviate those concerns. And we are very committed in those talks and have told the other parties that we will be very serious in those talks. I have given the authority for those talks to the foreign ministry, and headed by the foreign minister himself as the chief negotiator, to handle those talks.
Therefore, our foreign ministry is responsible for those talks. And the P5-plus-1 will be - can consider sending its senior authorities, such as their own foreign ministers, just as it was the case when I led the negotiating team, if you recall my, um my team was met with the foreign ministers of the three other parties at the time.
So we believe that the negotiations have to quickly start, seriously be pursued and very quickly be resolved and settled because the current circumstances are not to the benefit of anyone. It is a loose, loose situation for all. Therefore, we need to create a win-win situation for everyone to benefit.
Under the current circumstances of the world, given the economic debacle surrounding us, given the serious issues in our own region that confront us, it is necessary to settle such issues to boost the world economy, regional economy and regional security, as well.
AMANPOUR: And what are you looking for in return?
I know you want sanctions lifted.
Do you think you'll get them all at once or what are the most important things you want?
ROUHANI: Nothing except law. We seek the law to be enforced. International law must be enforced. And that will - is what we require.
We believe that unilateral sanctions violate international law, in fact. They violate free trade. They violate human growth and development, human development, and that when you actually sanction a bank of a country, the meaning of it is quite clear. You're sanctioning medicine for the people. You're sanctioning medical needs and tools for the people and you're even sanctioning food supplies for the people.
This is inhumane. This violates all principles and rules and regulations of the international legal system or international law.
And therefore, all we want in return is the enforcement of international law. And we seek to invite anyone who's deviated from that enforcement of international law to return to the path of enforcing it. For them to understand that with pressures on a nation, there will be no results.
We tell them that the pressure - pressures are pressure on the people of Iran. They are inhumane in our eyes. They are incorrect and the results are to create hatred in the hearts of that nation toward those who sanction it. The more hatred there is, the conditions become ripe – less ripe for creating peace, for creating security and friendship among nations.
Therefore, what we seek is the enforcement of international law. We believe sanctions is illegal and inhumane and therefore, we certainly believe that the sanctions must be removed. We believe sanctions have no effect. The goal of the - who sanction us, whatever it may be, they will not reach that goal.
The only path ahead is negotiations. We must sit down and talk and settle this for once and finally.
AMANPOUR: You have presented a different face of Iran, a different face than we'd had, certainly, for the last eight years. You came here saying you wanted to present the true face of Iran.
You have been busy Tweeting - at least your office has. You have been giving interviews. You've been giving statements, a real media blitz. Some might call it a P.R. blitz, a spin job.
Um, what is - what is your answer to Tweeting and posting on social media when the people of Iran don't have access to that?
You have said that you would work to reduce censorship inside Iran.
Will you do that?
ROUHANI: All my efforts are geared to ensure that the people of Iran will comfortably be able to access all information globally and to use it. There are large social networks at a global level around today. And I believe that all human beings have a right, and all nations have a right to use them.
Now, it is possible that a country might - a certain country might have a framework, an ethical and moral concern. And many countries do, in fact, have that, that they try to follow. And in Iran, there are certainly such frameworks in place, as well.
ROUHANI: But at the same time, my efforts are geared, for the next few months, to deliver all the promises that I did during my election campaign, to make them happen and, as you say, of course, in doing the election campaign, these networks, my supporters actually used them, um, a great deal. And today, those supporters, and even those who criticized me, are still on the same social networks and use them. And I always welcome their views on these networks, as well as those who criticize me, because the government does need to be open to criticism.
So one of my plans is to reduce the problems that people face currently on these issues, so that within those sort of moral frameworks that we have for ourselves, that we are able to access these social network sites.
AMANPOUR: One of the things you did, and also your foreign minister did, was to Tweet new year greetings to Jews in Iran and around the world, Rash Hashanah greetings.
You also brought with you on this delegation the only Jewish member of the Iranian parliament.
Why was it important for you to bring him here?
ROUHANI: Our effort here is to tell the world public opinion that Iran is not only not anti-Semitic, but rather that it respects the customs and beliefs of the Jewish people. You will know that we respect the divine book of the Jewish people. We respect their prophet, Moses. And you are aware that in the Iranian parliament, given that the number of Jews in Iran are very small, that they still retain a representative in - in the parliament. And that representative, uh, can use the platforms given to him to speak for him - his views and the views of the minority that he represents in Iran.
And therefore, this Jewish representation can actually speak of the reality of the lives of the Jewish people in Iran. We are proud of peaceful – our history of peaceful coexistence with followers of all belief systems. You know that many of the worshipping places of minority religions, uh, have - have their base in Iran. And they are located in different parts of Iran. And people who follow them , those worshippers - those worshipping sites have not only representatives in the parliament, but are allowed to freely practice their creed and belief system.
AMANPOUR: One of the things your predecessor used to do from this very platform was deny the Holocaust and pretend that it was a myth. I want to know you, your position on the Holocaust.
Do you accept what it was?
And what was it?
ROUHANI: I have said before that I am not a historian personally and that when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust as such, it is the historians that should reflect on it.
But in general, I can tell you that any crime or - that happens in history against humanity, including the crime that the Nazis committed towards the Jews, as well as non-Jewish people, is reprehensible and condemnable, as far as we are concerned.
And just as even such crimes are - if they are to happen today against any creed or belief system or human being as such, we shall again condemn it.
So what the Nazis did is condemnable. The dimensions of whatever it is, the historians have to understand what it is. I am not a historian myself, but we - it must be clear here, is that when there is an atrocity, a crime that happens, it should not become a cover to work against the interests or - or justify the crimes against another nation or another group of people.
So if the Nazis, however criminal they were, we condemn them, whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn, because genocide, the taking of the human life, is condemnable and it makes no difference whether that life is a Jewish life, a Christian or a Muslim or what.
For us, it's the same. It's the taking of a human life and an innocent human life is (INAUDIBLE) in Islam. It's actually something that we condemn and our religion also rejects.
But this does not mean that, on the other hand, you can say, well, the Nazis committed crimes against, you know, a certain group, now, therefore, they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it. This, too, is an act that should be condemned, in our view.
So there should be an even-handed discussion of this.
AMANPOUR: Another thing that your predecessor used to do - and, in fact, President Obama referred to it today in his speech - was threaten Israel with destruction. He used the word wipe Israel off the map. The president of the United States today said we cannot allow any country to threaten our ally with destruction.
Is it the policy of Iran to threaten Israel with destruction?
ROUHANI: You are aware that not only in these past 35 years, but in the past 200 years or so, Iran has never attacked another country. We have no intention of attacking any country or getting into a war with any country.
Even if our armed forces are built up, it is for defense purposes alone. You are fully aware that there was an eight year war between Iran and Iraq during which Saddam Hussein attacked us and we were forced to defend ourself. And we learned how important defense is, and, therefore, how important it is not to wage war.
When it comes to the issue of Palestine, we believe in the public vote, the ballot in a sense, is that vote for the people of that region that has to happen to settle the dispute that's been lingering for 60 years there.
We believe that all the Muslims, Palestinians that have been displaced or are refugees must have an opportunity to come and live where they like, alongside other people there. They should refer to the ballots and see what people say.
And we will submit to that will and to that ballot and accept it. Therefore, what I'd like to say here is that when it comes to the settlement and resolution of regional issues, we believe that the only path is through the ballot box, through democracy. And we believe that war is not an answer for any of our problems.
AMANPOUR: On the issue of human rights, just before you came, there was an announcement that 80 prominent human rights activists were released from jail in Tehran, many of them having been taken into jail in the dispute in 2009 after the reelection of - of President Ahmadinejad.
One of them was Nasrin Soutedh. I spoke to her. And she said to me, it's great that I'm free, but how about all the others that are still in jail.
What is your - what are you going to do?
What is your government going to do to release prisoners of conscience, and particularly two politicians, opposition politicians, Mahdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, who are still being held?
What will your government do to work for their freedom and to enable them to continue their political activities?
ROUHANI: You know that in the election campaign that recently took place, I insisted on an issue which I called the citizenship charter. I promised the people to put together and publicize a citizenship charter which I would then present as a bill to legislate on and to allow our society to settle many of the problems that it faces right now.
You know that our constitution has a very high capacity in restoring the rights of the Iranian people, by language and wording. One of the prerogatives of the president of Iran is the enforcement of the constitution.
So I have actually authorized the legal department that works under me to create a committee working on this issue in specific. And I believe that very soon this, uh, charter, citizen charter, will be ready, which I can present to the public opinion. And there's a team that's putting it together.
I will publicize it and we'll allow the people an opportunity to criticize it, to debate it, to work on it with us. We'll gather the viewpoints of anyone, and experts included, on this issue. And I am hopeful that in the next few months, that this sort of collection of citizenship rights will be created in the form of a tri - a charter and presented and actually enforced.
And it should a law need to be created to, uh, submit as a bill to the Islamic Office of Assembly, our parliament.
So basically I'm very sensitive about the question of citizenship rights, of the rights of minorities, the rights of the ethnic groups. I am glad that when every prisoner leaves the jail - the prison, I rejoice in that. I hope the day will come when our prisons will be empty, but knowing - recognizing that every country will still have its prisons and will have its criminals. But the fewer, the better. Uh, people in - in prison, it is better to have fewer. And that allows our government to rejoice in it, as well.
So I will spare no effort to ensure that those who are currently in prison will see an opening door.
AMANPOUR: Secretary of State John Kerry has made a specific appeal to you and to the Iranian government, asking you to help three - free three Americans who have been detained for many, many years. And their families are desperate for news of them. They've given us interviews. They've spoken to us. They really are desperate for news of these people - Bob Levinson, who's been disappeared since March of 2007; Amir Hekmati, who's a 30-year-old jailed since 2011 and says on - on a coerced false confession; and Saeed Abedini, who's 33 years old and was jailed a year ago on religion-related charges.
What can you say to, uh, the secretary of State, or to the American people and the families of these people?
Will you do something to finally unlock these cases?
ROUHANI: You see, there are two issues.
First, you mentioned a person that I've never heard of. Mr. Levinson, we don't know where he is, who he is. Sometimes you are speaking of people who come before a court of trial and other times, there are people who disappear. It's not a clear question to put these two categories side by side.
He is an American who has disappeared. We have no news of him. We do not know where he is. We are willing to help and all the intelligence services in the region can come together to gather information about him to find his whereabouts. And we're willing to cooperate on that.
But if somebody has been arrested, the second category, you know that there's a trial system. There is the judiciary that has to handle the case. Our constitution accepts the separation of our three powers, one being the judiciary, and it has to act independently.
So when someone is in prison and there is a case against him, he has the right to an attorney and representation. And we have numerous courts. We have different levels and this case can go through multiple levels.
But as to what governments can do, perhaps, on this issue, I think it's a very positive gesture for any government to do what it can to help. But I would like to say that we also have people who are in prison here in the United States. And we have all - this is a sort of a mutual request. Um, the U.S. government, who must assist those Iranians, those people who are of Iranian citizenship who are in prison here, as we should assist those people who have American citizenships that are incarcerated in Iran.
But having said that, our judiciary is independent and based on the constitution, the government has no right to interfere in the judicial process.
AMANPOUR: You don't think that it would be a gesture, as a new president who's talked quite warmly about trying to make better relations, that maybe Amir Hekmati, for instance, might get some attention?
ROUHANI: I've said governments should - if they decided to render any help, it is a very good thing to do. But at the same time, I'm trying to say that we cannot interfere in the judicial process. Not even the head of the judiciary can interfere in the decision of a court. And, um, there's a process, a due process that has to be completed.
But having said that, governments can assist. They can step in when it comes to the enforcement of laws and they can step in to facilitate the process. And I believe any government should do that. And if the U.S. government does that, the Iran - and if the Iranian government does that well, that would be a very good thing.
And, again, we have prisoners here in the United States. We have for a long time sought to see what help and assistance they can receive to be freed. And without speaking of their, you know, charges, whether they're real or not, I don't think this is the platform for it, I would conclude by saying that it's just good to help a human being.
I would be glad to help a human being. And American authorities, I hope, will also rejoice in assisting our - the Iranian citizens here in prison, as well.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about Syria. You have said that you've exchanged letters with President Obama on the issue of Syria. Today, the French president, Hollande, told me that Iran would be welcome in any peace conference regarding Syria, but under certain conditions, that you would accept the parameters of the conference. For instance, in this regard, Geneva 2, a transition that would see President Bashar al-Assad step aside for a political resolution.
Are you willing to accept that?
ROUHANI: We cannot accept any preconditions. We are ready to help in any international gathering if we can be of help. We believe it's our duty to help the Syrian people. I have told Mr. Hollande that we are prepared to cooperate with any country so that the civil war in Syria comes quickly to an end.
I have exclusively said to Mr. Hollande. And he agreed with me, in fact, that when it comes to the issue of Syria, the sole decision-makers are the people of Syria. No foreign power has the right to decide for the Syrian people or for the future of Syria.
We must all try to put an end to the civil war - there. We must all pave the way to allow people to participate in an election in Syria.
Now, having said that, where Syria is today, until where it can be when an election does take place, there is a clear distance where everyone must step in and shorten that distance.
At the same time, when it comes to Syria, a key issue that has to be taken into account is the presence of terrorists there. This should create concern by all. Clearly, the more al Qaeda terrorists or other terrorist groups that were around the region, the hard - it seems that all of them have actually gathered in Syria right now.
So this should be a cause of concern for everyone. It looks like they're all there. No action should be taken that assists terrorists. Assisting terrorists will be to the disadvantage of all of us. You know that there is a conflict in Syria. There are groups that are opposed to the gov - the Syrian government. The war in Syria today is not a war between the opposition and the government. It is a war between the terrorists and the Syrian government. And this is an issue that we must try to do, meaning silence that war, the flames of war have to be put out. We need to facilitate a Syrian-Syrian dialogue between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian government that could lead eventually to an election.
AMANPOUR: I know the Syrian position and yours, obviously, you've just stated it, is that all the opposition are terrorists. Many dispute that, as you know, because they believe that they are people who want to have a different kind of life.
Isn't Iran a direct player?
ROUHANI: I didn't say that. I didn't say that all the opposition in Syria are terrorists. I said that those who are fighting the government are the terrorists. Those who are the opposition are not fighting. The opposition isn't the opposition. We are in touch with the opposition. We have contacts with the opposition. We are saying that the opposition and the Syrian government must negotiate. That negotiation must be materialized.
But what I am saying is that there are terrorists that have gathered from all around the region and the Syria - are a danger to Syria. I didn't say that the entire oppositions are terrorists. There are - there's the opposition and there are terrorists.
AMANPOUR: OK. But isn't Iran a direct participant in this war?
A key commander, General Suleimani, is in there. He's got his men in there. There's many, many men - maybe more than thousands of Iranians in there fighting on the side of Bashar Al-Assad.
You have written an op-ed saying that you want to use your government to try to resolve this issue.
But isn't one of the resolutions also to take out your fighting men?
ROUHANI: When you say thousands from Iran are there, I don't know where you get that information. Even hundreds. You can say hundreds. You can say 10s.
But where do you gather that information?
AMANPOUR: Are there any?
ROUHANI: We'll get there. We'll get there. If you let me just com - complete my answer and then if you have other questions, I'm glad to take them.
The thousands that you speak of is an incorrect figure. Even if you say hundreds it's an incorrect figure. It is not what is correct as far - as far as the reality on the ground is concerned. We have close relations with Syria from a long time ago. We have had defense agreements with the Syrian government. Some of our army and officials – military officials have assisted Syria in - or helped in the upkeep, actually, or repair of the weapons that we had from years ago given to Syria. We have people who are military attaches and military experts who are stationed there. They are the liaisons, the military liaison between our country and Syria that - a liaison that has existed from years ago. But - but to speak of hundreds...
AMANPOUR: However many ...
ROUHANI: - or tens of hundreds of these...
AMANPOUR: - however many it is...
ROUHANI: - that's not incorrect.
AMANPOUR: They appear to be directing the war on behalf of President Assad. People do say, very serious military people, diplomatic people say that if it wasn't for your military help, planes bringing weapons and personnel, flying over Iraq, members of the Revolutionary Guard there, that President Assad's regime would have fallen already.
Do you agree?
ROUHANI: You see that you say that we are assisting militarily Syria.
Could you clarify what you mean?
AMANPOUR: - Weapons, plane loads of them.
ROUHANI: Well, I understand but what you are saying. What is - what I'm really questioning is the source of it. Again, there's a level of propaganda involved that I would caution you about that is baseless here. You are aware that there are planes that left Tehran to Damascus were actually forced to land in Baghdad, not only once or twice, but on numerous occasions, under pressure by the Americans and they - they couldn't find anything on those planes. As you say, we have loads - weapons on those planes now.
There are governments that are officially - saying that we are giving weapons to the Syrian fighters. And they are just saying it. I would say yes, we are providing those arms into Syria. And yet, there seems to be two treatments here.
What we are get - assisting Syria with is some food programs, medicine. We offer medicine on an ongoing basis. And even though we have such shortages in our own country, we consider this an obligation.
Now, if there a forces going from Iraq or elsewhere into Syria?
We are not the government of Iraq, we are not the government of Syria, we are the government of Iran. We speak for our actions and that alone.
But I want to bring to your attention the fact that there are many problems in Syria. And I believe that all governments have to step in responsibly and fix the situation.
You know very well where the terrorists are coming from. You know where the crossings are. You know who is supplying them quite well. You know where they're getting their training. You may not know personally, but many governments, Western governments or non-Western governments, are cognizant of this flow of arms into Syria and such.
Rather than pointing the finger at each other, rather than speaking of this government or that government, we must all collectively try to end the civil war in Syria.
Secondly, the terrorist groups are the real threat here - the real danger here to the entire region, even to Western governments. These will present, these terrorists, threats in the future.
How is it that their threat is talked about much less, in a certain way, when the finger-pointing comes to us?
You know that months ago, we informed the American officials that the Syrian terrorists have been equipped with different weapons...
ROUHANI: - including chemical weapons.
It's important to be sensitive enough to the dilemma, the problem in Syria. Now, talking about weapons of mass destruction, the chemical weapons, anyone who may have used it, anyone, a country or anyone, we categorically condemn it. And I have said this on numerous occasions in my interviews, as well, because we have been a victim of chemical weapons ourselves. We know the dangers.
All these years after the Iran-Iraq War, we are still treating the chemically wounded in our hospitals, almost after two decades have passed. They - suffering is a daily problem for our eyes.
So rather than talking in propaganda terms again for the Syrian crisis, it's better to understand and recognize that Syria is a serious problem. It's a country in the region where we are and we are all responsible to this - for - to find a settlement to the problem. And we are ready as much as we can to solve these problems.
AMANPOUR: Just briefly, are you encouraging the regime to give up its chemical weapons as the deal between the U.S. and Russia says?
ROUHANI: We believe in general that the entire region of the Middle East has, as far as that region is concerned, all weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, have to be eradicated from the region. We are glad that Syria has submitted to the Convention for the prohibition of chemical weapons, committed itself to that Convention. And we actually encourage everyone to submit to this, actually, the governments, to the decisions of such - as laid down by governments as such through these conventions in the hope that our region will be a region free of, uh, weapons of mass destruction.
AMANPOUR: And, finally, we end where we began.
Can you give me a sentence in English that you would like to say to the American people?
This is your first interview here in the United States.
ROUHANI: Well, I have to begin by saying that I have not spoken English for years now. I'm talking about a long many years that I have not practiced my English.
I would like to say to American people, I bring peace and friendship from Iranians to Americans.
AMANPOUR: Mr. President, thank you very much.
Thank you for joining us.
ROUHANI: I thank you, as well, and your group, your team here. As for the questions that you raised, that are questions of concern, I hope that it will help the American public opinion in shaping their views, as they should on world matters.
AMANPOUR: Thank you very much, indeed.
ROUHANI: Thank you