The following is an edited transcript of Washington Post senior associate editor Lally Weymouth's interview with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. The interview was conducted in Tehran on Sept. 13. L.W. People in the United States are wondering if you will grant a pardon to the two American hikers just before your trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
M.A. I am helping to arrange for the release in a couple of days so they will be able to return home. This is of course going to be a unilateral humanitarian gesture.
L.W. So you are arranging for their release? . . . Will they be released within the next few days?
M.A. I hope so. . . . I hope it will happen in a couple of days. We have made a tremendous effort to do it. We have done a lot to do it. It is a unilateral pardon of course on behalf of the Iranian nation and on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
L.W. . When will you announce this publicly?
M.A. When they are released, it will be announced.
L.W. How important is Syria to Iran? What is your view of the situation in Syria?
M.A. To us, our relations are important. Everybody in the world is important to us, wherever people are living.
L.W. Syria has been a key ally of Iran, not just another nation. I understand that you have tried to help President [Bashar al-] Assad. Do you believe his regime will survive?
M.A. To us, Lebanon, Turkey, and Syria are important. Afghanistan, Pakistan, countries in the Persian Gulf region. Syria is at the forefront of the resistance.
L.W. I know that recently you have been calling on President Assad to reform and listen to his people.
M.A. Yes, he himself declared that he will introduce some reforms. I think everyone in the world needs to see reforms - in Europe, America, Asia, everywhere.
L.W. The question we are looking at in the U.S. is, can President Assad last or is he finished? What is your assessment?
M.A. We don't think we should talk about the situation like this. That depends on the decision of the people and the government of Syria. We think it is very important for others not to interfere. Neither Westerners nor other forces, either NATO or other military alliances.
L.W. The people of Syria seem to be calling for him to leave.
M.A. Yes, some people are against him. They should also be respected. But we will find out the real views of the nation when there are real elections and I hope that will happen in an understanding and friendly atmosphere.
L.W. You think there should be elections in Syria?
M.A. Free elections must be [held] everywhere in the world, even in the United States.
L.W. It has been reported that Iran has sent advisers and Al Quds forces to aid President Assad.
M.A. We have a relationship with Syria, an old relationship. We also have good relations with the people of Syria, with all segments of the population. This is the situation as well in Iraq and other countries.
L.W. How do you see Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal? Do you think Iranian influence will increase in Iraq?
M.A. If America has withdrawn from anywhere, the situation will certainly improve and get better. We are not seeking to increase our influence. We have a special, friendly relationship with Iraq. We belong to the same culture and our people are friends. Every year, millions of people from Iran and Iraq travel to each other's countries and we also have marriages between Iraqis and Iranians. Many Iranians were born in Iraq and many Iraqis were born in Iran. This is a kind of special, cordial amicable ties. The Iraqi parliament and political groups have very good relations with Iran; we are friends. Many religious clerics in Iran finish their studies in Iraq and many Iraqi clerics study here. Neither Iraq nor Iran is seeking to influence each other's country. I have a very cordial relationship with the Iraqi president as well as with the prime minister.
L.W. Prime Minister [Nouri al-] Maliki and President [Jalal] Talibani?
M.A. Yes, all Iraqi statesmen and political figures. I think the government of the United States shouldn't be worried about post-withdrawal Iraq.
L.W. Many people in the United States feel that former President George W. Bush delivered Iraq to Iran by invading and overthrowing Saddam Hussein. It is commonly believed that Iranian influence has increased throughout this region, especially in Iraq. Is this a correct perception?
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