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World Leaders Take the Stage at the U.N. General Assembly; Interview with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired September 28, 2015 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:31] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Live from the United Nations in New York as world leaders take to the stage at the General Assembly.
President Obama blasts tyrants such as Syria's Bashar a Assad but Iran's president said for now the world agrees he'll stay.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HASSAN ROUHANI, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (via translator): Everyone has accepted that President Assad must remain so that we can combat the terrorists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Also ahead, why the Iranian president is laughing at some U.S. Republicans and his call for a prisoner exchange with the United States.
AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour at the United Nations in New York where world leaders
are laying out agendas. Top of the pile is Syria this year. President Obama appears to be bowing to the new conventional wisdom on Syria, saying
that he would join the widening fight to defeat ISIS whilst leaving Assad in place for now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran to resolve the
conflict. But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the prewar status quo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The carnage he's talking about causing 250,000 deaths, millions and millions of refugees, while President Putin tried to denied they were
fleeing Assad. He does seem to be holding many of the cards, catching the United States unaware, for instance, with a new intelligence accord with
Iran, Iraq and Syria, and of course with this new military buildup in Syria.
He told the U.N. that west was wrong not to deal with assad. As he says, Assad is the only one, obviously along with the Kurds, fighting terrorism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (via translator): The only way to solve the problem at a fundamental level is to restore the statehood where it has
been destroyed, to strengthen the government institutions where they still exist or are being reestablished, to provide comprehensive assistance of
military, economic, and material nature to countries in a difficult situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So President Rouhani of Iran, working closely with the Russians, also took to the podium. But before he did, I sat down with him in a wide-
ranging interview and I asked him about the nuclear deal signed with the United States and world powers, as well as about the U.S. switching tactics
and bringing Tehran to the Syria table.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, Mr. President. Welcome back to CNN.
Mr. President, can you tell us, because it looks like a lot of diplomacy regarding Syria is going to take place this week. For a long time the
United States has said that Iran cannot be party to any political discussions with the United States and its partners. Is that changing?
ROUHANI (via translator): What was previously announced as well was that our talks with the United States of America were strictly focused on the
nuclear issue. After having reached a conclusion and after beginning the implementation and the execution of the letter of the agreement, the
nuclear agreement, then having tested the good faith of all involved parties, we can talk about other issues. Now vis-a-vis the joint
comprehensive plan of actions, there are serious tangible steps that must be taken and verified.
AMANPOUR: It seems to be that the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia obviously, Iran obviously, are now talking about a potential
transition that involves President Assad staying where he is for the moment. Do you envision any time when President Assad will be moved off
the political landscape, that there will be a change, as my people in Syria want?
ROUHANI (via translator): Well, you see, when in Syria, when our first objective is to drive out terrorists and combating terrorists to defeat
them, we have no solution other than to strengthen the central authority and the central government of that country as a central seat of power.
So I think today everyone has accepted that President Assad must remain so that we can combat the terrorists. However, as soon as this movement
reaches the various levels of success and starts driving out the terrorists on a step-by-step basis, then other plans must be put into action so as to
hear the voices of the opposition as well. Those who are in opposition but are not terrorists, must come to the table of talks and negotiations, talk
to various groups, including government representatives, and then reach a decision, make a decision, and implement that decision for the future of
AMANPOUR: AMANPOUR: Mr. President, what do you think Russia is doing? Why is President Putin sending huge amounts of personnel, military hardware,
fighter aircraft, building a new base? Why? What is the point there? Do you think it's to put leverage down and to stymie the United States?
ROUHANI (via translator): The few times that we have met with Mr. Putin, he spoke in quite a bit of detail about this very issue. Russia has
decided to undertake a much more serious level of operations and combat against the terrorists in Syria. And during the last meeting, he did
announce that some countries such as Iran, Iraq, Russia must form a semi, a quasi-coalition in order to assist in this fight against Daesh or ISIS and
other groups resembling it.
And I did agree in principle with that concept because I did agree that everyone's objective is to combat and defeat Daesh or ISIS. And he told me
that he had even spoken with Mr. Obama about this topic and he would like to renew his commitment to the fight and the defeat of Daesh or ISIS. And
he told me, President Putin said, that Mr. Obama welcomed that analysis and that plan. So even previously the United States of America was made aware.
AMANPOUR: Well that's certainly interesting because the U.S. seems to say it doesn't know what Russia's game is. We'll see, here at the U.N., no
May I ask you, sir, Bashar Assad has been propped up by Iran, by Hezbollah, by Russia even before ISIS came on the scene. I asked the Prime Minister
of Russia more than a year ago, I've asked the Russian ambassador more than a year ago, why would you support somebody who has killed 100,000 people of
his own, who's using barrel bombs, chemical weapons?
And now I ask you, why is it in Iran's interest to support somebody who has now killed 250,000 of his own people, send 10 million of his own people
scurrying around the country the safety, leaving the country, trying to come to Europe? Why is that good for Iran to support that kind of man, who
many people say is responsible ISIS Daesh in the first place?
ROUHANI (via translator): The truth is that there are two distinctly different pictures about Syria. One of them is the one you have just
explained, which is principally spoken about in detail in the West and in America in particular.
There is another interpretation in Iran and in other regional countries, and particularly perhaps as well in Russia. You do know that at the time
when we were fighting against Iraq and Saddam Hussein attacked Iran, subsequent to which we fought an eight-year war of holy defense, one of the
few countries in the region that stood with us steadfastly against Saddam Hussein was President Bashar Assad's father, former President Hafeez al-
Assad. So going back to that time, we formed a very close relationship with this country.
So Syria in the region is considered and is one of our oldest friends in the region. But what is occurring today in Syria, perhaps there are some
issues with the governance of President Assad and perhaps some opposition members do seek a more open political environment in Syria.
[14:10:00] But the truth of the matter is that the principal threat and danger today in Syria emanates from Daesh or ISIL. Daesh is extremely cruel
and very savage. They do not believe in any framework, in any ideals, in any values, any human values. So we must all believe and accept that today
in Syria the number one objective must be the fight against terrorism and the defeat of Daesh or ISIL. Our second priority must be a political
AMANPOUR: But when? When will that happen? We will have more of our interview with President Rouhani after a break.
But first, earlier today at the podium, President Obama described Iranians as a proud people full of potential. But he also had this message, right
after Iran and the U.S. have signed this landmark historic nuclear deal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Chanting death to America does not create jobs or make Iran more secure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Coming up next, as I said, more of my interview with President Rouhani, who has some frank talk of his own about American attacks on his
country and that is next.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back and what a year makes since the last time the Iranian president addressed United Nations the General Assembly. His
country has signed a landmark nuclear deal with the United States and world powers, and is now being sought after as a player in regional crises, as
you just heard.
In the second half of my interview with President Rouhani, he said a new era has started with the U.S. but there is still a long way to go.
AMANPOUR: Mr. President, this is the first time you've come to the United States since the nuclear agreement has been signed.
Does the Supreme Leader of Iran support this nuclear agreement?
ROUHANI (via translator): From the very onset the Supreme Leader announced his full support in formal speeches. He said I am in favor of the very
essence of reaching and agreement and pointed out a few things, a few parameters, known as the red lines that must be respected by the
negotiating team. And those red lines were always adhered to by the nuclear negotiating team members. So there is no reason to think that the
Supreme Leader is now against the nuclear agreement reached.
AMANPOUR: Even though he hasn't specifically said it.
You must have been watching from Iran the Republican presidential campaign and you must have been seeing some of the debates in which many of the
Republican candidates have said that, if they become president, they will rip up the deal, that how can you trust Iran to self-inspect, how can you
be so naive to think that Iran is going to actually keep its end of the bargain?
ROUHANI (via translator): First of all, what is spoken of here in the United States of America sometimes when I would have time, some of it was
broadcast live and I would watch it, some of it was quite laughable. Some of then wouldn't even know where Tehran was in relation to Iran.
[14:15:02] Some of them didn't know where Iran was geographically.
So the people of Iran were looking at it as a form of entertainment, if you will, and found it laughable.
This is one issue. The other point is that the issue of the joint comprehensive plan of action and the nuclear agreement in America became a
partisan issue. And this was one of the weaknesses of America's foreign policy.
The other issue is that, yes, certainly in the United States, some are opposed to it and some are for disagreement. However, the issue of the
joint comprehensive plan of action is not just an issue of Iran and the United States; it's an international issue. It's an international
agreement. It is an issue for which Iran negotiated with six countries, six world powers, and finally this joint comprehensive plan of action was
deemed -- did pass the United Nations Security Council under Resolution 2231.
So again, with Mr. Obama's -- it wasn't something that came about with the support of the Democratic Party only or the President Obama's support only.
Can a government become a signatory to an international agreement and then the subsequent government tear it to shreds? This is something that only
the likes of Saddam Hussein would do. Saddam Hussein, previous to attacking Iran in 1980, did sign an agreement with Iran and then tore it to
shreds himself and then attacked Iran.
So any government the replaces the current government must keep itself committed to the commitments given by the previous administration;
otherwise, that government, that entire country, will lose trust internationally and no longer have the type of needed trust to operate in
the international arena.
So finally, I think most of these are political slogans at best.
AMANPOUR: What about the specific area where people are concerned, that in certain military sites, there won't be international inspectors? People
are concerned about that. What is your answer to that, Mr. President?
ROUHANI (via translator): Why would they be preoccupied or worried? If this agreement is going to be implemented means -- it will mean that we
have accepted the additional protocols. And the additional protocols has its own framework of rules and regulations.
Today, throughout the world, 120 countries are adhering to the additional protocols of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Iran will become
the 121st country on that list.
So anything that is adhered to in other countries implementing the additional protocols will be adhered to in Iran as well. There will be no
difference between Iran and the other countries.
AMANPOUR: Do you see a better relationship starting with the United States beyond just this deal?
ROUHANI (via translator): Yes, the people of Iran do wish for it, decreasing the tensions and elimination of the tensions between the United
States of America and Iran. One of the slogans of my political campaign during the presidential elections was that I wished to have beneficial,
constructive exchanges and relations with all countries. I did have that goal then; I do have it now. And I do think in the past two years Iran and
the United States of America have grown much closer than they have been in the past 37 years.
Two years ago, no one could have envisioned that the two foreign ministers, the foreign minister from Iran and the Secretary of State from the United
States of America, would sit together for hours and hours and sometimes weeks on end to reach a conclusion and negotiate and agreement, which they
AMANPOUR: So will now the president of Iran and the president of the United States sit and discuss here, say hello, shake hands here at the
United Nations, now that you have achieved this step together?
ROUHANI (via translator): I do believe that a similar question was asked by you last year as well. And my answer was that, in my mind, the symbolic
gestures don't hold much values, for us to run into one another, shake hand or not shake hands, say hello and not say hello, write letters -- but, of
course, we do write letters to one another from time to time. He writes letters to me; I respond and write letters to him.
But what is important to note is that a great distance was created during the last 37 years between the United States of America and Iran. So we
must do everything we can with the appropriate construct to lessen these gaps that have been created, how to bring about the positive support from
our people in both countries and how to bring the two people closer together.
We're not talking about forgetting the past on both sides. It's how to make up for those grievances and how to have a different outlook towards
[14:20:02] I do believe that the people of Iran are much more keen to look positively at the future rather than to keep living in the past.
Now if we can reach the same outlook in the United States of America, I am certain that this is also the political will of the people of the United
And finally, in any country, it is the political will and wishes of the people that forces their respective governments to act upon those wishes.
AMANPOUR: Let's move on to something that is very, very concerning to the people of the United States of America. You hold four Americans. Some of
them have dual citizenship, including our colleague, Jason Rezaian.
I would like to know whether you as a government feel that this legal process, whatever it might be, is expedited so that these people can be
freed. And I speak particularly of my own colleague, Jason Rezaian.
ROUHANI (via translator): Now being imprisoned in Iran has nothing to do with the nuclear negotiations and the subsequent agreement.
But I'll ask you this. There are a number of Iranians in the United States who are imprisoned, who went to prison as a result of activities related to
the nuclear industry in Iran. And today the U.N. Security Council has agreed, according to Resolution 2231, to lift those sanctions. Once these
sanctions have been lifted, why keep those folks in American prisons?
So they must be freed. If the Americans take the appropriate steps and set them free, certainly the right environment will be open and the right
circumstances will be created for us to do everything within our power and our purview to bring about the swiftest freedom for the Americans held in
Iran as well.
AMANPOUR: So that's it. It's if one side gets released, then the other side will get released. You don't see any way of trying to get, for
instance, a journalist released any sooner?
ROUHANI (via translator): Of course this is my personal opinion. My personal opinion is that anytime, anywhere, where we can help someone who
is imprisoned, anything that must be done for that person in order to speed up the legal process regarding his or her file, or receive a pardon, as it
were, nothing would make me happier.
And not only vis-a-vis a journalist but vis-a-vis anyone else. So we must bring to bear our deepest efforts to bring about the release, to realize
their realize. And this is a goal of my government.
However, if the Americans take the appropriate actions vis-a-vis Iranian citizens who are being held imprisoned here, then the right atmosphere and
environment will be created for reciprocal action perhaps.
AMANPOUR: Many Iranians were killed in the stampede at the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. And you have been very angry about the conditions that led to that
What is your reaction? Why do you blame the Saudi authorities for it?
ROUHANI (via translator): The Saudi government accepts, as the host, a certain set of responsibilities, in particular with the yearly pilgrimage
season, which encompasses a lot of different sites. This year, two very suspicious, strange, if you will, incidents happened. The injured are in
the thousands in the stampede. And hundreds of those are Iranians that have been killed, identified and some of them as of yet missing.
So this shows a lack of proficiency in the adherence to their duties as hosts by the Saudi Arabian government. So now they have focused all of
their efforts to kill more and more people on a daily basis in Yemen and apparently they have no more time to think about their principal
responsibility of hosting safely and soundly those who trust their physical safety to visit the House of God every year.
So the Saudi Arabian government must respond, must be held to account for this lack of proficiency, for this lack of responsibility and safety that
has led to the tragic killing of so many pilgrims from so many countries. But from many political channels, we will pursue this very issue until we
get satisfactory answers.
AMANPOUR: Mr. President, thank you very much, indeed.
ROUHANI (via translator): Thank you so very much.
AMANPOUR: So President Rouhani on the shifting turns in international relations.
And this week of course is the world's political leaders who are speaking at the United Nations, but last week, Friday, was a spiritual leader's
turn. After his triumphant tour of the United States, though, Pope Francis has left, and his departure has left a void. His exaltations to world
leaders from this very podium inside hang heavily over the 70th gathering of the UNGA as it kicks off in earnest.
We take a look, next.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we Imagine This World caught up in a flurry of top flight diplomacy. Powerful men and women cram a world of high hopes
and lofty ideals into just day one, just one morning. Take a look.
DILMA ROUSSEF, PRESIDENT OF BRAZIL (via translator): It is a privilege to address the General Assembly of the U.N. this year.
OBAMA: To believe we can bridge our differences, to choose cooperation over conflict -- that is not weakness, that is strength.
XI JINPING, PRESIDENT OF CHINA (via translator): All countries are equals. The big, strong and rich should not bully the small, weak and poor.
PUTIN (via translator): Ensuring peace and regional and global stability remains the key objective of the international community with the U.N. at
AMANPOUR: Much more of that ahead this week. But that's it for our program tonight. Thanks for watching, and good-bye from New York.