An Exclusive Interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The president of Iran on his release of the hikers, his next nuclear plan, the Palestinian statehood vote, and more.
M.A. Do you really think that the people of the United States hate George Bush for that?
L.W. No, I don't think they hate him, I just think it is a common perception that Saddam Hussein was not friendly to your country and that by removing his government and bringing a Shiite government to power, it made Iraq more open to Iranian influence. Is this an accurate analysis?
M.A. Do you really think that President Bush intended to establish a Shiite government in Iraq?
M.A. So it happened, unlike his intentions. Is this government an elected government or not?
M.A. It is an elected government. So the relations and the desires of Iraqi people were totally in contradiction with the desires and wishes of President Bush. Can we again reach the same conclusion that Bush delivered Iraq to Iran? President Bush followed certain goals and he was not able to achieve them. And the nation of Iraq has overcome the desire and intentions of Mr. Bush. Of course, we are happy with the downfall of Saddam Hussein.
L.W. You said you were happy with his downfall?
M.A. Yes, of course, we are happy about it because he was enemy of all countries in the region. He obeyed the policies and instructions of the United States. He attacked Iran; he attacked and occupied Kuwait. I would think that if Bush had left Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the situation would have been much better today, and the Iraqi people also thank America for that. And we would also have considered it as a positive policy. But then Bush announced that they decided to stay in Iraq, so everything and our comments about the military invasion of Iraq changed. Nobody in Iraq would believe that he had any friendly intentions.
L.W. Can we shift to another topic - your nuclear program? People in Washington ask why does Iran have so much enriched uranium but no reactors except at Bushehr, which has a guaranteed fuel supply from Russia. And of course the Tehran Research Reactor, which requires a very small amount of enriched uranium. Some experts in Washington say that you have no possible use for this enriched uranium other than a weapons program. What is your response to these people?
M.A. The government of Iran has no problem with the American nation. There are just a limited number of political leaders [who are problematic]. Still I do not understand if we should increase [enriched] uranium or limit it. If we do it in a limited quantity, they say [we] are going to use it for building a bomb. If we increase the quality of enriched uranium, they say why are they doing this? The Bushehr reactor alone needs 30 tons of uranium every year. We are now at a level of three tons of enriched uranium so we have to increase [the output]. We must produce 30 tons only for one year. The Tehran Reactor also needs enriched uranium, fuel. We need at least five more similar reactors for Tehran.
L.W. Five more reactors?
M.A. Yes, we need five more similar reactors in Iran. Because more than 800,000 patients are using those medical isotopes so we need such reactors in order to meet our requirements. That's why we need to build another 32 nuclear power stations for generating 20,000 megawatts of electricity. We have only launched one of them. The other projects are under study and consideration.
L.W. As you know, Iran has never satisfied the International Atomic Energy Agency on their questions about weaponization, as you see in their September report. The IAEA is concerned about information that Iran is developing a nuclear warhead for ballistic missiles. What is your answer to this?
M.A. These are the claims always made by the United States and these are the claims given to the IAEA. No member country has the right to make such claims against another member. The IAEA itself asked six basic questions and we provided answers to them and we have received their endorsement. The American administration has certain claims but the IAEA should not behave in a way so that everybody may think it represents the government of the United States. They should maintain their independence. Otherwise, the agency will lose its credibility. In the context of the law, we will continue our cooperation with the IAEA. And in many cases, we have gone beyond our commitments.
L.W. You said that Iran would start building a third enrichment plant like Natanz and Fordow. Have you started building that plant?
M.A. Natanz and Fordow are not the places for building nuclear power stations. They are the places where we produce fuels.
L.W. You said you would build a third enrichment plant this year.
M.A. No, I didn't say that. Uranium enrichment takes place where we produce the fuel. Power stations use those fuels for power generation so these things are separate.
L.W. The Fordow enrichment facility is built under a mountain. I assume this is so that it cannot be attacked by any foreigners. Some say you will be enriching uranium there up to 90 percent. Is there any truth to this or do you just want to protect your enriched uranium supply against an attack by Israel and the United States?
M.A. Our facilities like this must be constructed in a safe place. This is because of safety reasons and it is for protecting people. The Natanz facility is also underground. Of course nuclear facilities must be protected against aerial raids. But we do not need to have highly enriched uranium, uranium grade of 90 percent. Our nuclear facilities are being monitored by the IAEA, both in Natanz and in Fordow. The IAEA inspectors are there and they have also fixed their cameras in the facilities. So does it make any difference [to have them underground?]
L.W. Iran continues to enrich uranium both at 3.5 percent and 20 percent. Would you consider stopping enrichment in return for a freeze on sanctions?
M.A. For power stations, we need uranium of 3.5 percent and we are producing that fuel. For the Tehran Reactor we need uranium grade of 20 percent and we are producing that. We have no other requirements. Of course at the beginning we had no interest to produce uranium grade 20 percent. But the West refrained from giving us that uranium, so we had to start producing uranium grade 20 percent.
L.W. I understand that you were in favor of the deal you had reached with the United States in 2009, according to which the U.S. would sell you 20 percent enriched uranium in exchange for Iran exporting low enriched uranium. But you were attacked by your critics and came under assault and people here could not reach a consensus and the deal fell apart.
M.A. In Iran, people are free to express their views. Every day some people criticize the policies of the government. This doesn't mean that the government is going to abandon their policies. We felt that they wouldn't give us the fuel required here for our reactor. There were some political leaders who gave interviews in the United States and Europe and they said they want to keep Iran from having access to such fuel. So we realized that they wouldn't give us that fuel so we had to do it ourselves. Even if they gave us now uranium grade 20 percent, we would not continue with the production of this fuel.
L.W. So if the United States sold you the enriched uranium, would you stop enriching yourselves?
Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.