I was pleasantly surprised when my request for an interview with Mr. Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president was accepted.   President Ahmadinejad has never shied away from the media, but interviews had been exclusive to prominent mainstream media personalities such as Larry King and Charlie Rose.   However, it was the mainstream media’s projection of Mr. Ahmadinejad that always remained questionable.

On September 21, 2010, on the occasion of President Ahmadinejad’s participation at the UN General Assembly, I was given the opportunity to conduct a candid interview with Mr. Ahmadinejad.   I had overlooked the fact that such a meeting would be conducted in the presence of the secret service and body guards.   No sooner had this reality hit home than Mr. Ahmadinejad’s down to earth and easy attitude made me forget the presence of others in the room as we began the session.

The time had come for me to verify or refute a research I had conducted as a Public Diplomacy graduate student while attending USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  At that time, I had examined the media’s role in fashioning the image of Mr. Ahmadinejad.   My research posited that though ‘some great men make history, and history makes some men great’, in an age dominated by the media– internet, television, radio, and newspapers, the portrayal of Ahmadinejad is an artificial construct of the mainstream media.  The image portrayed by the media had made him hero to some and a villain to others.  Superstar or scapegoat, the Iranian President continues to dominate the news.  With help and questions from university students and professors, I was eager to meet the real Ahmadinejad.

Although a full hour had been granted for the interview (more accurately Q&A), regrettably,  given the number of questions and the fact that the translation was not simultaneous, many of the questions were left unanswered.   To my amazement, President Ahmadinejad granted me a second, follow-up interview (the transcript of which will be forwarded to participating universities).

It is a rewarding experience to bring one’s research to a practical conclusion.   I firmly believe that Ahmadinejad is misrepresented by the corporate owned media.  I leave it up to others to judge for  themselves.

Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich’s Interview with Mr. Ahmadinejad, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

September 21, 2010

Warwick Hotel, New York

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (MA):  In the name of God the Compassionate and merciful.

Greetings to cherished students and professors. I praise God for giving me the opportunity to speak with you, and I would like to thank Ms. Sepahpour for arranging this session.

I would like to briefly address three issues: the first issue relates to mankind.  Humans have an infinite capacity.  We are of the belief that humans are a universal creation and their true capacity will bloom in a global setting and outlook. Placing a limit on peoples’ capacity based on tribe, race, or geographical boundaries, limits the capacity of mankind to reach his full potential.  Humans complement each other.  Their  thoughts, values and scientific developments are a result of interaction.  Kindness, courage, self sacrifice and compassion become meaningful through interface with other human beings.

The second issue relates to management.  Management plays a key role in humans achieving their full potential.   In essence, management can play a key role in enabling people to reach out and help each other fulfill their goal.  Similar to people, management too has global dimensions.  To achieve our goals, we need global management. The kind of management which would regulate relationship between governments, between people, and states to the point where the dreams and potential of people is realized. A fair and just management system is capable of giving equal opportunity to all mankind and regulate relationships based on justice, friendship and compassion.

In contrast, a discriminatory management will deprive humanity from advancing — and instead of compassion and sympathy,  animosity, enmity and conflict will take root among people.  The global management of people and a universal perspective by people, can help mankind reach his full potential.

The third issue prompts us to examine the status quo.  There are numerous problems: widespread poverty, lack of basic healthcare and essential needs,  distance, grudges and animosity, bloody wars and mass killings; arms race, the looming shadow of threats over various nations across the globe, the vast and unprecedented global recession, and the numerous other problems which have engulfed us.   I believe all these are the results of the current world management.  Some have assumed the role of administrator..  Where do they get the legitimacy to conduct world affairs — who has elected them to global manager? A management that believes it owns the world and considers itself above and superior to others, does not respect the rights of other nations- it looks for reasons to start wars.

Our question is where do these people who run the world get their legitimacy to continue as leaders?  If we accept their management of world affairs, we would have to accept the status quo and the problems that exist, including the harm inflicted on humanity. This leads to the realization that they have failed in managing the world.   In reality they lack legitimacy and have failed to succeed.

One cannot run the world unilaterally and by monopolizing. A couple or a few governments who consider themselves to be superior, have assumed the role of management and prevent others from participation in world affairs.

Taking the simple example of a country — where there is good system management, that country will thrive.  Similarly, when a country is run by a single party or a select few, the system will not function well and the people will not reach their full potential.  A nation can be successful and reach its full potential, make room for friendship and compassion only when all its people participate, cooperate, contribute, and they feel ownership of the country.  Likewise, in a global arena we need an inclusive management system.

The fist decade of the millennium called ‘The International Decade for the Culture of Peace’ was spent in violence, animosity, threats, and wars.

We must ask why.

It is because a few select governments have claimed themselves as the sole proprietors of the globe.   However, if ownership is equally shared between all nations and governments, the cause for conflict would be eliminated. So we must move towards an inclusive global management, a global perspective, with the full and equal participation of all nations to help realize the concept of peace.

I thank all students and professor and I hope that with their research, opinions, discussions and articles they spread this concept and help implement the vision of a unified, peaceful world.

I am ready for your questions.

Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich (SSU):  Mr. president thank you very much for that introduction. Something that is always in the headlines is Iran’ nuclear ambitions.  What are your thoughts on a treaty which would call for a total ban on the research, development, and testing of nuclear weapons and for the dismantling of existing nuclear weapons?

MA: I think the NPT treaty and the recent revisions, if implemented, would result in the kind of treaty you have mentioned. Although, even prior to the review, the NPT called for nuclear disarmament.  Please pay attention:  Nuclear energy is a clean and cheap source of energy.  Every body should use it.  Unfortunately those who possess nuclear bombs equate peaceful nuclear energy to nuclear bombs. Everyone can use peaceful nuclear energy and it is far cheaper than fossil fuels.  When the cost of fossil fuels drop, all household expenses drop too, especially in America – and pollution would be reduced too.   However, in order to justify holding onto their nuclear arsenal, and in order to monopolize nuclear energy, and in order to dominate the rest, nuclear energy and nuclear has been equated to nuclear bombs.   Not a single step has been taken to correct this.

The NPT review has  emphasized universal disarmament and it is the hope and an opportunity for the nuclear powers to abide by this.

SSU: Thank you, Sir.  Professor Phillips  of Sonoma State University and President—Media Freedom Foundation sends this question: ‘Iran has continued to say that that it has no desire to build nuclear weapons. Given the continuing threats of a military attack on Iran by the United States and Israel, and the fact that both the US and Israel have nuclear weapons.   Would the Middle East not be a safer place if Iran was to obtain nuclear weapons?’

MA: We believe that there is no longer a use for nuclear bombs. No one can really use them.  Additionally, they are the most despicable weapons possessed by humanity.   We oppose them morally as they undermine the human values we uphold.  In Iran, our management system is based on human needs.  The art of human-based management is to enable people to advance and achieve their goals without resorting to such despicable weapons.   Peace cannot be obtained under the shadow of nuclear bombs.  Weapons of mass destruction will further jeopardize security whereas love and compassion can bring about peace and security.

SSU:  Thank you Sir. I noticed a very interesting picture [holding up September 13 issue of The New Yorker].   It is this month’s New Yorker.  On one side there is a picture of an Iranian woman — a film producer, and on the other side – it is actually a bank advertisement, it says in America only 4% of the film producers are women, whereas in Iran 25% of film producers are women.   Also, there are more female students graduating than men.  In fact, Azad University has 70% female students in Applied Physics. Given the progress they have made and these statistic, and how much Iranian women have improved, how do you see their future, what role would you like to see them play?

MA: Iranian women play a fundamental role in our society.  Women are the main foundation of society.  We do not consider men and women as opposites or rivals.  If one considers them as rivals, human society would seize to continue.  We recognize them as friends, partners and complementary to each other.   But we also believe that women have a more sensitive and important role because their hearts and spirits are filled with kindness and compassion.  And the foundation for the stability and survival of a society depends on a connection based on kindness and compassion. A person who has not experienced maternal love, is no doubt violent.   A violent society is not a suitable place to live in.  Women are the pillars of society. Without them there can be no family and children who will one day grow up.

On a social level too, they play a very fundamental role.  They have an important role in various fields including political, social, and the sciences, especially advanced sciences.   Women also play a critical role in the media, culture and arts.  Women play a prominent role in high managerial positions in the country.  Two of the specialized deputies of  my cabinet are women: the Deputy for Scientific and Technological Affairs, and the Deputy for Legal Affairs.

We have female experts and professors.   One of the most important ministries, the Ministry of Health, is run by a woman. Women are present in various cultural affairs as writers, producers etc.  The role of women in Iran is increasingly being felt and it is become more prominent every day.  Women played a primary role in our revolution for freedom and progress, and today their role continues.

SSU: Thank you, Sir.  A Moroccan student from the University of Southern California’s Public Diplomacy program asks:   What is the role or the plan of Iran toward Iraq after the departure of US troops?

MA: We think that a unified, strong, and independent Iraq will benefit everyone.  A fragmented Iraq will not benefit anyone in the region.  Of course democracy in Iraq is in nascent stages and various politicians are struggling as they tackle with it.  But considering the fact that Iraq is under occupation and the ensuing insecurities of the occupation, I  have to say that Iraq is moving forward very well.  Iran has good relations with all groups in Iraq.  We encourage all political factions to work with each other towards unity and prosperity.

SSU: Thank you, Your Excellency.  A student from Georgia Tech. in Atlanta, Georgia asks you ” Israel and U.S have publicly threatened to take military action against Iran. To what extent have threats impacted foreign investments in Iran?”

MA:  A great impact.   They have multipliedFDI in Iran.  Last year Iran was ranked 6th in the world in its ability to attract foreign investment.  It intensified FDI in Iran.  Iran’s stock market is one of the most active in the world.  Since sanctions were imposed and Iran threatened, Iran’s stock market index has risen 20%.   Both FDI and domestically, investment in Iran has grown.  Iran is one of the safest countries for investment. Because of the growth pattern in our economy, investment yield a high return.

Forexample, in building constructions – housing sector, construction is on the rise while prices are either stable or on the decline.   In the US the drop in housing prices is negative, but in Iran we both build new home units and lower prices.  We consider this to be positive.  Industry is the same. We have experienced constant industrial growth over the past few years.

We do not note any negative impacts  from these threats.  These threats which have a political dimension, have been ineffective.    Everyone knows that these threats are just threats – rhetoric.  The US could not possibly attack Iran. The US military has never engaged in a serious war.   They have all been one sided wars in the recent past – and the U.S. has been defeated in all of them.  I doubt any one thinks that the US military would enter a new war and succeed. Not to mention that it has no reason to attack another country.  Therefore there will not be a war.  As for the Zionist regime, we do not factor them in to our equation and our defense needs..

SSU: Speaking of Israel or Zionists as better known in Iran, almost every university that has participated in this interview asks ‘under what circumstances would Iran accept Israel, the pre 1967 borders, 1948, etc. If Palestinians reach a peace agreement with Israel, would you recognize them?

MA: There are two separate issues at stake here – One is peace and the other is the recognition of the Zionist regime.  We ask why is it that peace has evaded us for the past 30-40 years? There have been many talks and but they have failed. Why? We believe the root causes of the Palestinians problems have been ignored. One of the root causes is the failure to address the Palestinians right to sovereignty.  None of the plans have recognized the right of self-government for the Palestinians.  Others have always decided for the Palestinians.  Some have been participating in talks and making decisions for the Palestinians, whereas it should be the Palestinians who decide for themselves.  Even when some participate claiming to represent the Palestinians, they have not been the chosen elected representatives of the people.  The only group elected democratically by the Palestinians were not asked to participate in the talks.

The second problem is that of the refugees.  5 million people have been displaced for over 60 years — driven from their own homes.  Others have come from other parts of the world and taken their territory.  The debate here is not about 1967 or 1948 borders –it is more fundamental than border issues – there is also the need to recognize national sovereignty.  The reason peace has been evasive is because Palestinians will never accept these tendencies.

The second issue is the recognition of the Zionist regime.  Iran does not accept them. em.  The premise of this regime rests on occupation.  Establishing a regime in someone else’s territory and driving away the occupants is usurpation – an unprecedented act. Recognition of the Zionist regime implies recognition of usurpation, exile, and violence.  If we recognize occupation, it will no longer be possible to recognize boundaries, or security. When we say we do not recognize this regime we mean we do not recognize occupation, terror, and exile.

SSU: So Mr. President, if the representative of Palestinian people, that is HAMAS, if they participated in the peace talks, and if it was recognized that the Palestinian people could return home, the refugee problem you pointed to, and if all of Palestine was happy with this peace outcome, would you accept whatever outcome for the future of that area, whether you call it an Israeli government or a Palestinian government?

MA: I separated the two issues:  One is the right of the Palestinians to self-rule, and that is the decision of the Palestinian people, we cannot interfere – whatever decision the Palestinian people make will be respected.  We cannot impose anything on them. The second issue is the existence of the usurper Zionist regime. This is a different subject. Of course, if the rights of the Palestinian people is restored, and if their land and territory is returned to them,  then all the other issues can be resolved as well.   But assuming what you say is realized, the two separate issues remain which will need to be addressed.

SSU: Thank you so much.  Drew Kaufamn of Drake University asks ‘where do you think Iran will be 20 years from now?’

MA: In a very great place — culturally, industrially, and scientifically.  It will be secure financially and it will be a progressive country which will be on friendly terms with all nations.  It will be the flag-bearer of peace, compassion and justice in the world.

SSU: Thank you.  A professor from the University of Southern California asks: ‘Under what circumstances could Iran and the US re-open embassies in one another’s country?’

MA: Today almost every one thinks that the conditions are very hard to meet.  But I believe think they are very simple. The US government must realize that the Iranian nation must be respected, and establish and accept a relationship based on equality. I believe this is the basis for all relations.  As such, all the issues would be resolved.  Of course there would be other issues to talk about but these will be separate from establishing a bilateral relationship.  The hegemonic tendencies of the US, the occupations and interventions are issues that can be discussed at a later stage and resolved.  We believe relations can be established based on equality and mutual respect.

SSU:  Sir, there are so many questions that they come in and they keep coming in as you and I speak.  Plus there were questions that were sent ahead of time.  Unfortunately I wont’ be able to address all of them.  But I would like to ask you how would you like to be remembered — what would you like your legacy to be?

MA:Like any other person. I am a small member of the great  Iranian nation.   So like all other people who like to leave the legacy of a good name once gone.

SSU:  Your term will be up fairly soon, in about three or two and half years.  What do you plan to do once the presidential term is up?

MA: Three years is a long time.  specially when one is in the last decades of one’s life.  For now I think of the 3 remaining years in which  time I need to execute my responsibilities and protect Iran, humanity, and peace and security.  I am a university professor, I will return back to university and wherever else Iran needs me.

SSU: You have a huge responsibility on your shoulders.  I wish you good luck, I thank you for your service to your country, and I thank you for allowing candid questions and responding to them.

MA: I thank you and the esteemed scholars.  I hope we can come together and build a bright future together based on justice and compassion and free of wars, poverty and division.   I see you all as the future capital of humanity. I hope that the day will come when there will no longer be any restrictions and we can meet in person.

I thank you [turning to SSU] for creating this session and thank students and scholars for their patience and interaction.


Footnote to the interview:  President Ahmadinejad asked if each university had the opportunity to ask at least one question.  When I told him that there were too many questions and more were coming in, and that there were some late participants, he granted me a second interview for 30 minutes which was taped but not live.  The transcription will be made available shortly.