CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: President Rouhani, welcome back to the program.
HASSAN ROUHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through interpreter): I thank you very much for having created this opportunity once again to take a few moments to speak directly with the wonderful people of the United States of America.
AMANPOUR: Let's talk about then what's immediately at issue for the people of the United States of America and the whole world, and that is the battle against the Islamic State, ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq. You have said that everybody should be combating this extremism. Are you joining in the alliance? Are you also combating ISIS?
ROUHANI (through interpreter): What I can tell you is that Iran has been at the forefront of fighting against terrorism. We can go all the way back to the beginning years of the revolution. We were facing an extremely vicious and savage form of terrorism inside the country. And we fought against them. And even during the last few years, regardless of the location, whenever a government and when the people of a country have made an official request for assistance, we have come to their aid and we have rendered assistance. Prior to the attacks of September 11th, you're fully aware that the people of Afghanistan were fighting against the Taliban, were standing up to the best of their abilities against the Taliban. And you know that Iran gave a great deal of assistance and help to the people of Afghanistan. Following that in Iraq, Syria, as well as Lebanon or wherever else we would feel that terrorist groups are operational and active, while at the same time receiving direct requests from the governments and the people of that country we would render assistance. And you do know that that even most recently, the first government that came swiftly to the aid of the Iraqi government and people against Daish was Iran.
AMANPOUR: So do you believe that you face a common threat and that you also are in the alliance in some way or another? I know that the United States informed your government that these strikes were going to take place.
ROUHANI (through interpreter): Well, I would like to distance myself from the word ‘coalition’ because some countries haven't come together under the umbrella of this coalition. I'm not quite certain how serious they may be. But what I wish to share with you is that in reality all countries, all nations must feel a great degree of responsibility and therefore exert everything within their powers, on the scene, in order to combat the terrorism in North Africa, in other parts of Africa, in the Middle East, has really – the level of terrorism has really skyrocketed. It is relentlessly and savage and that does not have mercy against women, elders, children or anyone. So it is a common threat for all of us and it is the same point that I touched upon during my talks at the U.N. General Assembly last year, which is the way that [INAUDIBLE] the world against violence and extremism. And this requires a unison effort from all of us.”
AMANPOUR: So you're fine with these strikes inside Syria and inside Iraq against Daish, against the Islamic State?
ROUHANI (through interpreter): What we say is that the issue of terrorism is an extremely serious one. The operations that we wish to execute against the terrorists must have a comprehensive planning preceding those actions and operations. You’re fully aware yourself that terrorist groups are always on the move, are constantly and highly mobile. They're not an organized army that can be damaged heavily or considerably through aerial bombardments. We need a vast campaign of operations – two, three, four, a dozen, two dozen, three dozen of aerial bombardments is quite significant against their installations and compounds. The aerial bombardments have more the form of a psychological operation rather than succeeding in the eradication of terrorism. We must pay particular attention to social activities, cultural activities, financial and economic activities, as well as the educational side in every country so as to address the root causes of the problem. So again, the aerial bombardment campaign is mostly, I would say, a form of theater – rather than a serious battle against terrorism.
AMANPOUR: These – Daish, as everybody calls them now, the Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL, whatever – have come up inside a vacuum in Syria and Iraq for other reasons. How do you feel as the president of Iran, as the main military backer of a regime, the Assad regime, that the United Nations has said has killed 200,000 of its own people – tortured people, executed people. Why does Iran want to be associated with that kind of genocidal barbarism?
ROUHANI (through interpreter): In Syria, you're fully aware that since the very beginning we've announced that what has been transpiring in Syria is a form of warfare between terrorists and the legitimate army of that country. And it was in fact so. The army of that country was carrying out a battle against the terrorists. They kept saying that these are opposition members and we will keep asking who are these opposition members who have preferred to take up arms so swiftly and so savagely and violent, reasons rather than resorting to talks and negotiations? You do know that a group that going back all the way to three years ago was fighting savagely against the people of Syria, it was the same people that we're labeling today as Daish or ISIL and ISIS. So how come is it that back then they did not have any preoccupation targeted at them? So whether we prefer or do not prefer, support or do not support a certain government in a certain country, terrorism is bad no matter who it is taking place against, no matter how many lives it is taking – if it's taking innocent lives and if they're using the tools of terrorism, we must condemn it and fight it, no matter who we wish to fight against. We need to address the following. What we do with the government that is there, on the ground, and the Americans now are saying that we give warnings and heads up to the authorities in Damascus, and the folks in Damascus keep saying that it is under our – it can be under our authority with prior coordination. So what is really the foundation of this? We must carry on a serious battle against terrorism and put the fate of the nation in the hands of the people of that nation.
AMANPOUR: Well, as you know, the people of that nation, it all started when they wanted a little bit of reform and the government of that nation responded in a way that the United Nations now says has caused the death of 200,000 civilians. The moderate forces were on the verge of winning until Iran and Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard came into Syria in 2012 and turned it around. So my question to you is, are you comfortable being the government that keeps President Assad in power through ground forces and all sorts of other military cooperation?
ROUHANI (through interpreter): In Syria, if the army of the Syrian people, the Syrian government, had not stood up and fought against terrorism, if the people of Damascus and other cities he had not fought against them, who do you think would have been the victor today? Let's assume no one would have rendered assistance. The victor would have been the same people that everyone is recognizing as terrorists today. The ISIL and ISIS people, those who came and conquered the city of Aleppo, who were they? They were the same terrorists groups. It was either Daish or the Nusra Front or other terrorist groups. Was it anyone other than them? It was these same people, these same groups. You have seen the videos. They will bring and whip, flog people in public, they would decapitate them in public. The same thing that they have been carrying out in public and on video during the past few months in Northern Iraq. They've done the same thing in Syria for quite some time. So the question fundamentally is why is it that back then the Western governments were indifferent and some of the Western governments even assisted with the intelligence, with political support, and some of the nations in the region, some of the governments in the region gave the financial assistance and other tools. So the groups haven't changed. It wasn’t where the people were standing up against them being slaughtered by the army. The groups were fighting against the people and the army of that nation house to house, street by street. It was the same terrorist groups that we're facing today. So our condemnation was of all of this since the very inception. We kept insisting that we must not give them a comfort zone within which to operate and grow and fester. The atmosphere and the right framework must be given to the people so that they can participate in the political, social and cultural activities of their nation and whatever their final and ultimate decision might be, it will be respected and it shall be respected.
AMANPOUR: Mr. President, stand by for just a second. We're going to take a break and then we're going to come back with more of our conversation and talk about the nuclear deal that you're still trying to negotiate.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back. We continue our conversation, Mr. President, about many of the challenges, including the nuclear deal that Iran and the P5+1 are trying to negotiate, the United States and the major powers. How are these negotiations going? We're hearing that it's still very difficult, the sides are very far apart. Do you believe you can achieve a deal by November?
ROUHANI (through interpreter): There are a few points that we must pay close attention to. One of them, vis-à-vis the nuclear issue of the Islamic Republic of Iran, we must all accept that there is only one way and that's the way of dialogue and talks and negotiations. And through these talks and negotiations we must reach an agreement. This means that sanctions are an inappropriate tool. That means that threats are the wrong path. This means that if there is an agenda aimed at keeping the people of Iran from achieving technology and fuel sufficiency domestically, those are the wrong policies. But whatever gaps exist must be resolved around the table of discussions and negotiations. The talks can be successful. This is the second point. Because we were able in the Geneva Accord to create an understanding and reach an agreement, albeit temporary for six months initially, which following the deadline, was renewed for another six months. Therefore that is concrete proof that talks and negotiations succeed. The third point is that I feel that the talks are quite serious, that both sides are negotiating with utmost seriousness. And on the Iranian side of course we are extremely serious and very much intend to reach mutually acceptable conclusion. We also do believe that our counterparts are working towards the same aim. But we must all accept that we have a difficult path ahead. There are still differences of opinion. Some of these differences of opinion can be quite significant. But at the end of the day, we must all strive to find a solution and resolve this. We must not on this important issue, keeping in mind the repercussions, the positive results that this agreement can be behind, we should not let time pass us by and be blinded to future possibilities and potentials and interests that can benefit the world all over, not just us.
AMANPOUR: If you do not reach a deal by November, the deadline, are you willing to have another extended, long, indefinite continuation of talks and an extension of the current deadline? Under the interim agreement.
ROUHANI (through interpreter): We do not even think of that as an option, what you put forth is not even an option in our equation and our mindset. We must be focused and highly concentrated on only concluding these talks in the time frame that we have ahead, which is no more than two months at the most. But if we do not succeed then we can think about the next steps at that time. But now we're solely and wholeheartedly focused on reaching concrete results and agreements during the time that we have left before the deadline. And I do think we can realize this, we can reach this objective if all sides maintain their serious postures and their good will.
AMANPOUR: Are you fully aware – has it been fully made clear to you how slowly suspending and lifting sanctions will happen, that they can't be lifted without congressional approval?
ROUHANI (through interpreter): Everything must, everything that is brought in an agreement must be executed. But vis-a-vis what the American government must do to live up to its end of the commitment contained in that agreement, then that's their own business, quite frankly, and on our side as well, let's not forget that the Islamic parliament in Iran must be the ultimate decision-maker as representatives of the people of Iran to vote on many issues vis-a-vis the same agreement. So I do think that if the agreement is reached, it can immediately cease and melt away – take away these sanctions. And certainly the U.N. Security Council resolutions can be executed in order to take away the effect of the previously passed resolutions.
AMANPOUR: Do you feel you're being offered enough sanctions relief to do what everybody wants you to do with your nuclear program?
ROUHANI (through interpreter): Well, what we wish for, what we are seeking as a foundation, which must accepted by all, is that this negotiation must – the end result of the negotiation must be a return to normal conditions. And as it was brought in the Geneva joint plan of action, after a short period of time following the final agreement, Iran such as every other nation which is a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, must be enjoy equal rights without restrictions. In our opinion, from the very beginning, the U.N. Security Council resolutions against us and trade sanctions and economic sanctions were not the correct path. And we think the sooner we can let go all of these unneeded measures, the sooner it will benefit all sides.
AMANPOUR: The other sides are saying that you’re playing very hard ball, being very, very hard line and not showing flexibility in order to close the gap, the Iranian side. Why not?
ROUHANI (through interpreter): Flexibility meaning exactly what? For any country, there are red lines, there are borders trespassing which are unacceptable. We are not a government that can make the final decisions because they must be the decisions and the expression of the will and wishes of the people – as the government's chosen through the ballot box by the people, we can represent their decisions. But something that is ultimately unacceptable by our population, we cannot accept. Flexibility has its own framework and border line as well. When we reach the far reaches of flexibility, then it becomes trampling on people's rights. We're not ready to go that far. We do believe that even up to today, we have shown enough flexibility and our counterparts are fully aware of how flexible we have been and in which arenas we were able to show the greatest deal of flexibility, perhaps unexpected even for them. But if we realize that the counterparts are asking for too much, then of course that factor will render reaching an ultimate agreement quite difficult and it can delay this conclusion for a long period of time.
AMANPOUR: You explained how important it is to have sanctions relief. They obviously say how important it is to have total security regarding your enrichment program. What about dismantling the centrifuges? What about doing some of the things that we've been reading about in the press? Is that something you're going to do?
ROUHANI (through interpreter): Well, in the joint plan of action in Geneva it is quite clearly written that the enrichment of Iran must be on par with the needs of Iran. We have all accepted that. All sides of this negotiations have accepted that. In Geneva, in Iran and the P5+1 agreed on everything contained therein. And we all became signatories to it. So our needs are quite clearly stated and proven. Therefore, our enrichment will only be under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency and only to procure for our nation's needs, wherever there are nuclear activities, enrichment or any type of activity related to the nuclear purposes of a civil nuclear program, the IAEA will have a presence there and will certainly and undoubtedly be what we have agreed upon quite some time ago. It will be solely based on the needs of the nation.
AMANPOUR: You've talked a lot about what your people want. Of course one of the things they wanted when they elected you was economic relief. What have you been able to do in this last year since we spoke a year ago at the UNGA to relative the economic pain in your country, that makes a difference to the people?
ROUHANI (through interpreter): Well last year, when I came to the United Nations General Assembly and participated in it, it was the beginning of this path that we had embarked upon. My administration had only taken office a month prior to my travel to the U.N. General Assembly, but now we're over a year into the beginning of my government, my administration, and I do believe that in various fields we have witnessed great progress in the economic field. You are fully aware that last year we were facing having a great deal of difficulty. Our inflation was extremely severe and the nation's economy was on decline. But we had witnessed such a decline before. But never such a stagnant economy, or downward trend in the economy had been experienced in this fashion. So it was quite deep. It was such that the year prior – so that would make it in 2012 – we were at negative point eight percent negative growth. The following year, we were able to come to minus two percent. So in two years, in aggregate of two, a little over two years, we were able to go even farther down to almost nine percent. So vis-a-vis combating inflation and increasing inflation we have had significant successes. We are even well ahead of the promises that we gave to the nation. I had promised our nation that within this fiscal year, up to the end of the current fiscal year which is almost around March 20th or so of 2015, I had promised them that our inflation would be decreased to 25 percent. Yesterday central bank report showed that inflation is now down to 22 percent, which is a number only 3 percentage points above which we were supposed to reach then not until March of 2015. So up to March of 2015 I can foresee that we will witness an even more severe decrease in the inflation rate. So the – yesterday's report by the central bank was quite important. Of course, this encompassed only the first quarter of the Iranian fiscal year. So we're really talking about the spring season of 2014. But in the first three months, we were no longer in the negative growth territory. Our economy started growing, in reality, because the central bank had said that during the first three months, our economic growth rate was 4.6 percent, which is quite hopeful, which is quite positive. So if we can continue on the same path that means that we have both come out of the negative growth territory and we've been able to move the country forward. Something is completely tangible for the people of Iran, for our nation, outside of these numbers and percentage points and so on, which is that people do feel a sense of stability and calm in the financial markets in Iran. The exchange rates, the price of gold, the price of gold coins, the prices of produced goods and services – there is a stability throughout the country today. And this economic stability and tranquility was at the cornerstone of my campaign promises and intentions as the chief of the executive branch. And I do thank the Lord that we have been successful in this field. Of course, our success in this administration is not only limited to the economy, and you're aware of many other successes that we have been able to accomplish.
AMANPOUR: And many other demands of your people. They want social media. They want more social freedom. There have also been crackdowns. Stand by, Mister President. We'll take a short break and we'll come back and talk about those.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back for our final segment, Mr. President. The CEO of Twitter has noticed that you've been tweeting and you keep tweeting and he said, lovely, but please can you let your own people tweet? We talked about this. We talked about this last year. You said you were going to try. Why is it that it’s still not able to legally use social media?
ROUHANI (through interpreter): We started many endeavors. We took a lot of actions. It is correct; we have not yet reached a point in which we feel completely comfortable in what our people intended during the elections and voted for. But our people realize that we have taken steps forward. And our people are fully aware that in such matters, we must have a coordination with other – with other branches of the government. With the judiciary, with the parliament, with the legislatures. So there is a great deal of coordinating effort that goes into this, to move forward. We are thinking about creating a vast information network throughout the country. And we have started laying the foundation for this. You know that the bandwidth have increased considerably compared to last year when we took office. Therefore people today have a much easier time receiving information and having access to the Internet, and benefiting from that. Of course, this is not to say that the people have everything that they wish for. But what is important to keep in mind is that we've had sustainable movement forward throughout the past twelve-plus months.
AMANPOUR: Well, certainly your people will be looking forward to a lot more of that and so will all the people who watch you tweet all the time. But now I want to ask about a gesture of goodwill to the United States and to others. You have – and I'm going to read here – a group of American Iranians, a British Iranian, in prison right now. Jason Rezaian, a journalist for The Washington Post, and his wife; Saeed Abedini, who is a Christian; Amir Hekmati, who's been in jail for a long time; the English Iranian Ghoncheh Ghavami, who's also in jail. Without charge, without anything and we don't understand why and we would like to know whether you are prepared to deliver a gesture of goodwill to these people, to their families and to the world whom you're addressing from here at the United Nations.
ROUHANI (through interpreter): We never wish for any individuals, Iranian or non-Iranians, be it in Iran or in other countries, to be imprisoned or detained or be put on trial. But naturally, as a matter of course, individuals can be suspected of something by the judiciary, by the security organizations, and they are pursued. We are also worried about some Iranians that are prison in America or in other countries. But through the will or by the actions of the United States of American and we wish for all of their fates to be resolved peacefully and successfully as soon as possible. We wish that for all families, for all parents, for all relatives who have good news about their detained relatives. But as the president, as the chief executive of my branch, it is – my goal is for the laws to be respected. And I do hope that regarding every single person that you have named in your question or other people that are being subjected to detention or investigation, whether it be Iranian or a general foreign citizens or dual citizenship, but everyone that you named who have dual citizenship, according to our nation's laws, are Iranian citizens only. We do not accept dual citizenship. But the bottom line is that our aim is for the laws to be respected at every step of the way. If they do go to trial, the trial will be fairly executed for them to have access to every legal defense allowed under the law, proper defensive representation through qualified attorneys, and we do hope that their families can gain the certainty that fairness and justice will be employed towards the cases and case files of their loved ones.
AMANPOUR: Our colleague, the journalist, do you have any reason to believe there's any reason for him to be in jail?
ROUHANI (through interpreter): You see, I really don't believe the fact at all. I do not believe that an individual would be detained or put in prison for being a journalist. An individual can be a reporter, a journalist, and have committed a crime. But that crime is not necessarily always related to their profession, to the profession that they’re practicing. But as a matter of course, these charges, if proven, after the investigation, they must be answered to in a courtroom. But my personal opinion is, and I've announced it several times when I've spoken on different occasions, we believe that the general behavior towards reporters and journalists and those who carry the heavy weight of informing our citizenry, must be quite flexible. Doesn't mean that we should not consider the laws and the constitution of the country. But we can open the atmosphere for them. During the past year, if someone would go to our media, they will see that they write quite comfortably, they speak quite comfortably in criticism of this government, be it radio channels, television channels or social media or Internet articles, or print articles. So this atmosphere of freedom has existed. And sometimes, quite frankly, the criticism were not based in truth and facts. And there were some severe criticisms, vulgar at times, against the previous government, which we managed to put a stop to it. But we are particularly sensitive towards who disseminate truth and information, journalists and reporters. And it is important for us to have a more nuanced approach towards it. But generally speaking, I do follow – my office does follow various case files. But the truth of the matter is that I cannot have the time nor the inclination nor access to every single case file. But what I must assure – be assured of as the chief executive of my branch is that the constitution and the laws and the civil rights are being respected to the letter.
AMANPOUR: Mr. President, thank you very much for being with us tonight.
ROUHANI (through interpreter): I also thank you. God bless you and I wish you success and continued health.
AMANPOUR: Thank you very much.