A Rare Chat With Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Mike Wallace Looks Back At His Interview With Iran's Controversial Leader

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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran gives few interviews to Western journalists, but met with 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace last August at his palace in Tehran. So we were able to give Americans a close-up look at this important Islamic leader who is outspoken, crafty and, as you will see, a challenging interview.

Ahmadinejad regularly manages to keep himself in the news headlines. He has created a stir with his frequent anti-Israel pronouncements. And beyond that, he has kept President Bush, among others, on edge as he continues to enrich uranium, he says, for the development of nuclear energy. But others believe that what he's really after is a nuclear bomb. And the U.S. has not ruled out military action, if necessary, to prevent that.

"President Bush has said, vowed, he will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon," Wallace said.

"The problem that President Bush has that, in his mind he wants to solve everything with bombs," President Ahmadinejad replied through his interpreter. "We are not working to produce the bomb. But if Mr. Bush thinks that he can stop our progress, I have to say that he will be unable to do that."

Asked what he means, Ahmadinejad said, "We want to have access to nuclear technology. We want to produce fuel."

And since 60 Minutes' visit, Iran has made advances with their nuclear program, interpreted by some as bringing Iran closer to building a nuclear bomb.

"Even before you were offered an incentive package by the Europeans to stop your nuclear power program, the enrichment of uranium, you rejected it. You said: 'Our nuclear technology is more valuable than your incentives. Do you think that you are dealing with a four year old child and can take away his gold for a few walnuts?'" Wallace remarked.

"With regards to the package, we welcomed the idea. We said that this is a step forward and we're going to study it," Ahmadinejad replied.

But Iran had no intention of stopping the program, and last year, when the U.N. first threatened to impose sanctions, Ahmadinejad said, "We don't give a damn about UN sanctions."

"Well, they cannot sanction us. They need us more than we need them. For 27 years now we have lived with American sanctions. But we did not correspond in kind. Respond, rather, in kind. Because we don't believe in these. These are unfair practices," the Iranian president told Wallace.

"You have said, quote, 'Any country that imposes sanctions on Iran will regret it.' How will they regret it?" Wallace asked.

"Well, whoever sanctions us will stand to lose out. They will be worse off than we, perhaps, will be. Because we are going to respond in kind. They need us more than we need them," Ahmadinejad said.

"They need you more than you need them?" Wallace asked.

"That is true. We can look after ourselves," Ahmadinejad answered.

Then the conversation turned to Iran's least favorite neighbor: Israel.

"Israel, you have said time and again, Israel must be wiped off the map. Please explain why. And what is Iran doing about that?" Wallace asked.

"Well, allow me to finish with the nuclear dossier first," Ahmadinejad said.

"No, you finished with that. You finished with that. Please," Wallace insisted.

"No, it's not finished, Sir. It's not finished. We are just beginning," Ahmadinejad replied.

"That's what I was afraid of. But go," Wallace said.

"Well, the Americans are overly sensitive. And, of course, the American government…I don't know why they're opposed to Iranian progress," Ahmadinejad replied.

"You are very good at filibustering. You still have not answered the question. You still have not answered the question. Israel must be wiped off the map. Why?" Wallace asked again.

"I think that the Israeli government is a fabricated government," Ahmadinejad replied.

Fabricated, he says, following the Holocaust, which he says may also have been fabricated.