Iran's president ranges far in interview: talks Israel, slams homosexuality
New York (CNN) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made clear what he meant when he said Israel should be "wiped off" the map and touched on everything from the Holocaust to homosexuality in a wide-ranging interview that aired Monday on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight."
The president, speaking through a translator, also said what his country would do if attacked by Israel, and he slammed an anti-Islam film that has triggered protests in the Muslim world.
"If a group comes and occupies the United States of America, destroys homes while women and children are in those homes, incarcerate the youth of America, impose five different wars on many neighbors, and always threaten others, what would you do? What would you say? Would you help it? ... Or would you help the people of the United States?" Ahmadinejad asked in response to whether Israel should be "wiped off" the face of the map, as he once said.
"So when we say 'to be wiped,' we say for occupation to be wiped off from this world. For war-seeking to (be) wiped off and eradicated, the killing of women and children to be eradicated. And we propose the way. We propose the path. The path is to recognize the right of the Palestinians to self-governance."
When asked whether he believes in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ahmadinejad declined to comment.
"I cannot express an opinion. That is their prerogative," Ahmadinejad said. "But the people of Palestine must be allowed by everyone, and helped by everyone, to allow them, to give them the right to choose for themselves."
In New York this week to visit the United Nations, Ahmadinejad spoke at a meeting on the rule of law Monday and is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with the Iranian president over the weekend and warned him of the "potentially harmful consequences of inflammatory rhetoric," according to a U.N. statement.
During his speech Monday, Ahmadinejad accused "some members of the Security Council with veto rights" of having "chosen silence with regard to the nuclear warheads of a fake regime, while at the same time they impede scientific progress of other nations."
Though he didn't name the countries, he was clearly talking about the United States, Israel and his own country.
Some world powers, particularly Western nations, suspect that Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons. Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
When asked by CNN's Morgan what Iran would do if Israel were to attack it, Ahmadinejad said, "Any nation has the right and will indeed defend herself."
"But my question is this: Why should the world be managed in such a way that an individual can allow himself to threaten a rich and deeply rooted historical, ancient country such as Iran? A great country, such as Iran, based on an excuse of his own fabrication. ... Another country can say, 'I am guessing that country B is doing activity X, therefore I will attack that country' ... can this be ... a successful formula for the management of the world?"
Again there, the president was likely referring to Iran's disputed nuclear program.
Asked whether he feared a war or military conflict with Israel was imminent, Ahmadinejad said: "The Zionists are very much, very adventuresome, very much seeking to fabricate things, and I think they see themselves at the end of the line and I do firmly believe that they seek to create new opportunities for themselves and their adventurous behaviors."
Among other topics the president touched on in the interview taped in New York over the weekend were:
Ahmadinejad denounced the film, "Innocence of Muslims," that portrays the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester and killer. The online video has led to a wave of global unrest.
"Fundamentally, first of all, any action that is provocative, offends the religious thoughts and feelings of any people, we condemn," he said.
Photos: Anti-U.S. demonstrations worldwide
"Likewise, we condemn any type of extremism. Of course, what took place was ugly. Offending the Holy Prophet is quite ugly. This has very little or nothing to do with freedom and freedom of speech. This is the weakness of and the abuse of freedom, and in many places it is a crime. It shouldn't take place, and I do hope the day will come in which politicians will not seek to offend those whom others hold holy," Ahmadinejad said.
"We also believe that this must also be resolved in a humane atmosphere, in a participatory environment, and we do not like anyone losing their lives or being killed for any reason, anywhere in the world."
The privately produced film sparked protests against the United States, where it was made. While most of the demonstrations have been peaceful, some were marred by violence that has left more than two dozen people dead -- among them U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens
When asked by Morgan whether he thought protesters should stop threatening U.S. staff abroad, Ahmadinejad said he cannot say what other people or nations should do, but that he believes "extremism gives birth to following and subsequent extremists."
A long-time supporter of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Ahmadinejad told CNN's Morgan the crisis in Syria must be resolved through dialogue, and without outside interference.
He condemned the violence, which has left more than 26,000 people dead since March 2011, according to opposition activists.
"We must all say enough of this violence, right now," Ahmadinejad said, adding that he is working to organize a group to bring the two sides together.
"We do believe that freedom, the right to choose, the right to vote, respect and justice is the fundamental right of all people. All people must obtain these rights. No one has the right to restrict a people and nation, but we believe as a friend of nations, we must help the nations around the world to obtain these rights through peaceful paths, though peaceful actions."
The conversation was contentious at times, particularly when the topic turned to the Nazi Germany extermination of the Jews last century. Ahmadinejad has long questioned the existence of the Holocaust.
"I pass no judgment about historic events. I defend the human freedoms. Whatever event has taken place throughout history, or hasn't taken place, I cannot judge that. Why should I judge that? I say researchers and scholars must be free to conduct research and analysis about any historical event," the Iranian president said.
"I'm sorry. Let me ask you this. Do you believe that anyone is giving birth through homosexuality? Homosexuality ceases procreation. Who has said that if you like or believe in doing something ugly, and others do not accept your behavior, that they're denying your freedom?" he asked Morgan.
"Proper education must be given ... the education system must be revamped. The political system must be revamped. And these must be also reformed, revamped along the way. But if you, if a group recognizes an ugly behavior or ugly deed as legitimate, you must not expect other countries or other groups to give it the same recognition."
When asked how he would feel if one of his children dated a Jew, Ahmadinejad replied, "I would have to see who that Jewish man or woman would be. I see love amongst people as completely acceptable. There are many Jews living in Iran with whom we are very close. There are ... some Muslims that marry into Jewish families or marry Christians."
"I -- we have no such problems," he added.
"Of course, I think none of us should represent the whole population of the United States, but we believe that color, religion, native tongue, ethnic background shouldn't create differences or distances between people, nor should it be the sole reason to bring people closer together. It has always been like this."
Osama bin Laden
Ahmadinejad also discussed his reaction to Osama bin Laden's death last year by American Navy Seals under President Barack Obama.
"I would have been happier to see a transparent trial, a formal trial, and find out the root causes of all of the events of the last few years," the Iranian president said.
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