FAREED ZAKARIA: You have indicated that you think that the Israeli prime minister’s threats toward Iran are ones you don’t take very seriously. But I was wondering how seriously you take the rhetoric of the president of the United States. President Obama said at the United Nations that he was determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Do you regard that as a bluff?
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): You set forth two or three questions here. I have never used the word bluff. When we say we do not take it seriously, we mean that it impacts — it does not impact our policies in the slightest. Iran is a vast country. It’s a great country. Let’s assume a few terrorists come and assassinate some of our officials. Will the country be damaged? No. A couple of bombs would be set to explode. Will the country be destroyed? No. We see the Zionist regime at the same level of the bombers and criminals and the terrorists. And even if they do something — even if they do something, hypothetically, it will not affect us fundamentally. But vis-a-vis the expressions of the president of the United States, because I do not wish to speak in any way about anything that may be interpreted as meddling or interfering in America’s domestic or electoral affairs — but perhaps myself — compared to everyone else in the world, I am perhaps much more keen than anyone else not only that there will be no more production of nuclear bombs around the world, that even those that exist today would be eliminated.
ZAKARIA: If there were an Israeli strike on Iran, there are other senior Iranians who have said things that are much more forceful about how Iran would respond. And they seem to take it very seriously. The head of the Revolutionary Guard, Mohammed Ali Jafri, said that in response to Israeli strike, Iran would strike back with missiles. And I think he says nothing will remain of Israeli. I don’t think any spot would remain safe. Is that also your view of what the nature of Iranian retaliation would be?
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I — understand this: that Iranians never start a war unprovoked, never start a war, period. But if they are attacked, they defend themselves very well, quite well. And no one throughout her history has been able to gain and come out on top from an attack on Iran.
ZAKARIA: President Ahmadinejad, you said in a couple of your interviews that you don’t really think much is going to happen on the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, until after the American election. What do you think will happen after the elections? Do you expect that at that point there will be a new proposal from the major powers? Or do you think Iran will present another proposal?
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): As you touched upon, yes, during a couple of interviews, yes, I did speak of this. I think, at the end of the day, that the decision making vis-a-vis Iran’s nuclear issue with Five Plus One is a very important decision. And it is one of the most — and one of the most important players in the Five Plus One equation is America. But we have seen during many years that as we approach the United States presidential elections, no important decisions are made. Also keep it in mind that certainly following the election, certainly the atmosphere will be much more stable. And important decisions can be made and announced. We have set forth proposals. We are holding dialogue. And, as of late, Mr. Jalili and Ms. Ashton have had productive talks. And we do hope to be able to take some steps forward.
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ZAKARIA: Mr. President, let me ask you a question about human life. You spoke a great deal while you were here in New York about the value you place on human life. Every life is important, you say. The government of Syria has, by all accounts, killed about 20,000 people. About 250,000 Syrians, men, women and children, have fled the country. And 1.2 million Syrians have been displaced within the country. Why will you not call on Bashar al-Assad to resign and leave the presidency of Syria?
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Do you think that if we do such a thing, the problem will be resolved?
ZAKARIA: If you say that you care about human life, you should take a moral stand.
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Yes, but do you think that if we make the request that you ask, the problem will be resolved? Not so. The problem of Syria is very complicated. And it requires a just and the right solution. And I’m truly sorry and saddened not only in Syria, but anywhere in the world, from any side, where there are people losing their lives. The opposition members, the Syrian Army, they’re all from Syria. They’re all the people of Syria. Why should they be killed? There can be two proposals and solutions for Syria. One is that of warfare. But there is also a second way of thinking, a national understanding. And I do believe that if both sides sit and reach an understanding on a free election, a national understanding on a free election, and follow — and become subservient to the choice of the people, every — all sides should accept the wish of the Syrian people. Therefore, we are standing up a contact group. And I do hope that they will have their first meeting and gathering here in New York City. Thereby, we can succeed in bringing both sides closer together, so they can reach an agreement for a political process. In my opinion, Syria has no military solution. And I think it is amply clear. I think my opinion is amply clear about Syria. I’ve said it 50 plus times thus far. We are on the side of the people. Everywhere we’re on the side of the people.
ZAKARIA: But the people are getting killed by the government. You keep saying you’re on the side of the people, and yet you support a government that is massacring its people.
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): You mean that we should then enter the scene and provide arms, like other countries have, in order to — for the battling groups, in order for the war to continue? Is that your opinion?
ZAKARIA: No, my opinion is you should ask the Syrian government — for the president to step down, since he is presiding over a mass massacre.
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Well, we make all kinds of requests. We have announced it officially. Do you think with our request, things will come to an end?
ZAKARIA: You mentioned the contact group that you believe could be a path to a negotiated or diplomatic solution. And this is a group that is meant to be — include Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. But at the first meeting of the group, Saudi Arabia refused to attend and let it be known that the reason they would not attend is they will not sit down with Iran in the same room. How do you get over that obstacle?
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): This I hear from you for the first time.
ZAKARIA: I can tell you it based on my reporting. It’s true. You know it is a fact they didn’t attend the meeting.
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): This is something — what they have announced officially is that they have said that our minister of foreign affairs is ill.
(Rush transcript provided by CNN.)