SPIEGEL: Who is that supposed to be? Which researchers
do you mean?
Ahmadinejad: You would know this better than I; you
have the list. There are people from England, from Germany,
France and from Australia.
SPIEGEL: You presumably mean, for example, the
Englishman David Irving, the German-Canadian Ernst Zündel, who
is on trial in Mannheim, and the Frenchman Georges Theil, all of
whom deny the Holocaust.
Ahmadinejad: The mere fact that my comments have
caused such strong protests, although I'm not a European, and
also the fact that I have been compared with certain persons in
German history indicates how charged with conflict the
atmosphere for research is in your country. Here in Iran you
SPIEGEL: Well, we are conducting this historical
debate with you for a very timely purpose. Are you questioning
Israel's right to exist?
Ahmadinejad: Look here, my views are quite clear. We
are saying that if the Holocaust occurred, then Europe must draw
the consequences and that it is not Palestine that should pay
the price for it. If it did not occur, then the Jews have to go
back to where they came from. I believe that the German people
today are also prisoners of the Holocaust. Sixty million people
died in the Second World War. World War II was a gigantic crime.
We condemn it all. We are against bloodshed, regardless of
whether a crime was committed against a Muslim or against a
Christian or a Jew. But the question is: Why among these 60
million victims are only the Jews the center of attention?
SPIEGEL: That's just not the case. All peoples mourn
the victims claimed by the Second World War, Germans and
Russians and Poles and others as well. Yet, we as Germans cannot
absolve ourselves of a special guilt, namely for the systematic
murder of the Jews. But perhaps we should now move on to the
Ahmadinejad: No, I have a question for you. What kind
of a role did today's youth play in World War II?
Ahmadinejad: Why should they have feelings of guilt
toward Zionists? Why should the costs of the Zionists be paid
out of their pockets? If people committed crimes in the past,
then they would have to have been tried 60 years ago. End of
story! Why must the German people be humiliated today because a
group of people committed crimes in the name of the Germans
during the course of history?
SPIEGEL: The German people today can't do anything
about it. But there is a sort of collective shame for those
deeds done in the German name by our fathers or grandfathers.
Ahmadinejad: How can a person who wasn't even alive at
the time be held legally responsible?
SPIEGEL: Not legally but morally.
Ahmadinejad: Why is such a burden heaped on the German
people? The German people of today bear no guilt. Why are the
German people not permitted the right to defend themselves? Why
are the crimes of one group emphasized so greatly, instead of
highlighting the great German cultural heritage? Why should the
Germans not have the right to express their opinion freely?
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, we are well aware that German
history is not made up of only the 12 years of the Third Reich.
Nevertheless, we have to accept that horrible crimes have been
committed in the German name. We also own up to this, and it is
a great achievement of the Germans in post-war history that they
have grappled critically with their past.
Ahmadinejad: Are you also prepared to tell that to the
SPIEGEL: Oh yes, we do that.
Ahmadinejad: Then would you also permit an impartial
group to ask the German people whether it shares your opinion?
No people accepts its own humiliation.
SPIEGEL: All questions are allowed in our country. But
of course there are right-wing radicals in Germany who are not
only anti-Semitic, but xenophobic as well, and we do indeed
consider them a threat.
Ahmadinejad: Let me ask you one thing: How much longer
can this go on? How much longer do you think the German people
have to accept being taken hostage by the Zionists? When will
that end - in 20, 50, 1,000 years?
SPIEGEL: We can only speak for ourselves. DER SPIEGEL
is nobody's hostage; SPIEGEL does not deal only with Germany's
past and the Germans' crimes. We're not Israel's uncritical ally
in the Palestian conflict. But we want to make one thing very
clear: We are critical, we are independent, but we won't simply
stand by without protest when the existential right of the state
of Israel, where many Holocaust survivors live, is being
Ahmadinejad: Precisely that is our point. Why should
you feel obliged to the Zionists? If there really had been a
Holocaust, Israel ought to be located in Europe, not in
SPIEGEL: Do you want to resettle a whole people 60
years after the end of the war?
Ahmadinejad: Five million Palestinians have not had a
home for 60 years. It is amazing really: You have been paying
reparations for the Holocaust for 60 years and will have to keep
paying up for another 100 years. Why then is the fate of the
Palestinians no issue here?
SPIEGEL: The Europeans support the Palestinians in
many ways. After all, we also have an historic responsibility to
help bring peace to this region finally. But don't you share
Ahmadinejad: Yes, but aggression, occupation and a
repetition of the Holocaust won't bring peace. What we want is a
sustainable peace. This means that we have to tackle the root of
the problem. I am pleased to note that you are honest people and
admit that you are obliged to support the Zionists.
SPIEGEL: That's not what we said, Mr. President.
Ahmadinejad: You said Israelis.
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, we're talking about the
Holocaust because we want to talk about the possible nuclear
armament of Iran -- which is why the West sees you as a threat.
Ahmadinejad: Some groups in the West enjoy calling
things or people a threat. Of course you're free to make your
SPIEGEL: The key question is: Do you want nuclear
weapons for your country?
Ahmadinejad: Allow me to encourage a discussion on the
following question: How long do you think the world can be
governed by the rhetoric of a handful of Western powers?
Whenever they hold something against someone, they start
spreading propaganda and lies, defamation and blackmail. How
much longer can that go on?
SPIEGEL: We're here to find out the truth. The head of
state of a neighboring country, for example, told SPIEGEL: "They
are very keen on building the bomb." Is that true?
Ahmadinejad: You see, we conduct our discussions with
you and the European governments on an entirely different,
higher level. In our view, the legal system whereby a handful of
countries force their will on the rest of the world is
discriminatory and unstable. One-hundred and thirty-nine
countries, including us, are members of the International Atomic
Energy Authority (IAEA) in Vienna. Both the statutes of IAEA and
the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as well as all security
agreements grant the member countries the right to produce
nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes. That is the legitimate legal
right of any people. Beyond this, however, IAEA was also
established to promote the disarmament of those powers that
already possessed nuclear weapons. And now look at what's
happening today: Iran has had an excellent cooperation with
IAEA. We have had more than 2,000 inspections of our plants, and
the inspectors have obtained more than 1,000 pages of
documentation from us. Their cameras are installed in our
nuclear centers. IAEA has emphasized in all its reports that
there are no indications of any irregularities in Iran. That is
one side of this matter.
SPIEGEL: IAEA doesn't quite share your view of this
Ahmadinejad: But the other side is that there are a
number of countries that possess both nuclear energy and nuclear
weapons. They use their atomic weapons to threaten other
peoples. And it is these powers who say that they are worried
about Iran deviating from the path of peaceful use of atomic
energy. We say that these powers are free to monitor us if they
are worried. But what these powers say is that the Iranians must
not complete the nuclear fuel cycle because deviation from
peaceful use might then be possible. What we say is that these
countries themselves have long deviated from peaceful usage.
These powers have no right to talk to us in this manner. This
order is unjust and unsustainable.
SPIEGEL: But, Mr. President, the key question is: How
dangerous will this world become if even more countries become
nuclear powers -- if a country like Iran, whose president makes
threats, builds the bomb in a crisis-ridden region?
Ahmadinejad: We're fundamentally opposed to the
expansion of nuclear-weapons arsenals. This is why we have
proposed the formation of an unbiased organization and the
disarmament of the nuclear powers. We don't need any weapons.
We're a civilized, cultured people, and our history shows that
we have never attacked another country.
SPIEGEL: Iran doesn't need the bomb that it wants to
Ahmadinejad: It's interesting to note that European
nations wanted to allow the shah's dictatorship the use of
nuclear technology. That was a dangerous regime. Yet those
nations were willing to supply it with nuclear technology. Ever
since the Islamic Republic has existed, however, these powers
have been opposed to it. I stress once again, we don't need any
We stand by our statements because we're honest and act
legally. We're no fraudsters. We only want to claim our
legitimate right. Incidentally, I never threatened anyone -
that, too, is part of the propaganda machine that you've got
running against me.
SPIEGEL: If this were so, shouldn't you be making an
effort to ensure that no one need fear your producing nuclear
weapons that you might use against Israel, thus possibly
unleashing a world war? You're sitting on a tinderbox, Mr.
Ahmadinejad: Allow me to say two things. No people in
the region are afraid of us. And no one should instill fear in
these peoples. We believe that if the United States and these
two or three European countries did not interfere, the peoples
in this region would live peacefully together as they did in the
thousands of years before. In 1980, it was also the nations of
Europe and the United States that encouraged Saddam Hussein to
Our stance with respect to Palestine is clear. We say: Allow
those to whom this country belongs to express their opinion. Let
Jews, Christians and Muslims say what they think. The opponents
of this proposal prefer war and threaten the region. Why are the
United States and these two or three European nations opposed to
this? I believe that those who imprison Holocaust researchers
prefer war to peace. Our stance is democratic and peaceful.
SPIEGEL: The Palestinians have long gone a step
further than you and recognize Israel as a fact, while you still
wish to erase it from the map. The Palestinians are ready to
accept a two-state solution while you deny Israel its right to
Ahmadinejad: You're wrong. You saw that the
Palestinian people elected Hamas in free elections. We argue
that neither you nor we should claim to speak for the Palestian
people. The Palestinians themselves should say what they want.
In Europe it is customary to call a referendum on any issue. We
should also give the Palestinians the opportunity to express
SPIEGEL: The Palestinians have the right to their own
state, but in our view the Israelis naturally have the same
Ahmadinejad: Where did the Israelis come from?
SPIEGEL: Well, if we tried to work out where people
have come from, the Europeans would have to return to east
Africa where all humans originated.
Ahmadinejad: We're not talking about the Europeans;
we're talking about the Palestinians. The Palestinians were
there, in Palestine. Now 5 million of them have become refugees.
Don't they have a right to live?
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, doesn't there come a time when
one should accept that the world is the way it is and that we
must accept the status quo? The war against Iraq has put Iran in
a favorable position. The United States has suffered a de facto
defeat in Iraq. Isn't it now time for Iran to become a
constructive power of peace in the Middle East? Which would mean
giving up its nuclear plans and inflammatory talk?
Ahmadinejad: I'm wondering why you're adopting and
fanatically defending the stance of the European politicians.
You're a magazine, not a government. Saying that we should
accept the world as it is would mean that the winners of World
War II would remain the victorious powers for another 1,000
years and that the German people would be humiliated for another
1,000 years. Do you think that is the correct logic?
SPIEGEL: No, that's not the right logic, nor is it
true. The Germans have played a modest, but important role in
post-war developments. They do not feel as though they have been
humiliated and dishonored since 1945. We are too self-confident
for that. But today we want to talk about Iran's current
Ahmadinejad: Then we would accept that Palestinians
are killed every day, that they die in terrorist attacks, and
that houses are being destroyed. But let me say something about
Iraq. We have always favored peace and security in the region.
For eight years, the Western countries provided arms to Saddam
in the war against us, including chemical weapons, and gave him
political support. We were against Saddam and suffered severely
because of him, so we're happy that he has been toppled. But we
don't accept a whole country being swallowed under the pretext
of wanting to topple Saddam. More than 100,000 Iraqis have lost
their lives under the rule of the occupying forces. Fortunately,
the Germans haven't been involved in this. We want security in
SPIEGEL: But, Mr. President, who is swallowing Iraq?
The United States has practically lost this war. By cooperating
constructively, Iran might help the Americans consider their
retreat from the country.
Ahmadinejad: This is very interesting: The Americans
occupy the country, kill people, sell the oil and when they have
lost, they blame others. We have very close ties to the Iraqi
people. Many people on both sides of the border are related. We
have lived side by side for thousands of years. Our holy
pilgrimage sites are located in Iraq. Just like Iran, Iraq used
to be a center of civilization.
SPIEGEL: What are you trying to say?
Ahmadinejad: We have always said that we support the
popularly elected government of Iraq. But in my view the
Americans are doing a bad job. They have sent us messages
several times asking us for help and cooperation. They have said
that we should talk together about Iraq. We publicly accepted
this offer, although our people do not trust the Americans. But
America has responded negatively and insulted us. Even now we're
contributing to security in Iraq. We will hold talks only if the
Americans change their behavior.
SPIEGEL: Do you enjoy provoking the Americans and the
rest of the world now and then?
Ahmadinejad: No, I'm not insulting anyone. The letter
that I wrote to Mr. Bush was polite.
SPIEGEL: We don't mean insult, but provoke.
Ahmadinejad: No, we feel animosity toward no one.
We're concerned about the American soldiers who die in Iraq. Why
do they have to die there? This war makes no sense. Why is there
war when there is reason as well?
SPIEGEL: Is your letter to the president also a
gesture toward the Americans that you wish to enter into direct
Ahmadinejad: We clearly stated our position in this
letter on how we view the problems in the world. Some powers
have befouled the political atmosphere in the world because they
consider lies and fraud to be legitimate. In our view that is
very bad. We believe that all people deserve respect.
Relationships have to be regulated on the basis of justice. When
justice reigns, peace reigns. Unjust conditions aren't
sustainable, even if Ahmadinejad does not criticize them.
SPIEGEL: This letter to the American president
includes a passage about Sept. 11, 2001. The quote: "How could
such an operation be planned and implemented without the
coordination with secret and security services or without the
far-reaching infiltration of these services?" Your statements
always include so many innuendos. What is that supposed to mean?
Did the CIA help Mohammed Atta and the other 18 terrorists
conduct their attacks?
Ahmadinejad: No, that's not what I meant. We think
that they should just say who is to blame. They should not use
Sept. 11 as an excuse to launch a military attack against the
Middle East. They should take those who are responsible for the
attacks to court. We're not opposed to that; we condemned the
attacks. We condemn any attack against innocent people.
SPIEGEL: In this letter you also write that Western
liberalism has failed. What makes you say that?
Ahmadinejad: You see, for example you have a thousand
definitions of the Palestian problem and you offer all sorts of
different definitions of democracy in its various forms. It does
not make sense that a phenomenon depends on the opinions of many
individuals who are free to interpret the phenomenon as they
wish. You can't solve the problems of the world that way. We
need a new approach. Of course we want the free will of the
people to reign, but we need sustainable principles that enjoy
universal acceptance - such as justice. Iran and the West agree
SPIEGEL: What role can Europe play in the resolution
of the nuclear conflict, and what do you expect of Germany?
Ahmadinejad: We have always cultivated good relations
with Europe, especially with Germany. Our two peoples like each
other. We're eager to deepen this relationship.
Europe has made three mistakes with respect to our people.
The first mistake was to support the shah's government. This has
left our people disappointed and discontent. However, by
offering asylum to Imam Khomeini, France earned a special
position that it lost again later. The second mistake was to
support Saddam in his war against us. The truth is that our
people expected Europe to be on our side, not against us. The
third mistake was Europe's stance on the nuclear issue. Europe
will be the big loser and will achieve nothing. We don't want to
see that happen.
SPIEGEL: What will happen now in the conflict between
the West and Iran?
Ahmadinejad: We understand the Americans' logic. They
suffered damage as a result of the victory of the Islamic
Revolution. But we're puzzled why some European countries are
opposed to us. I sent out a message on the nuclear issue, asking
why the Europeans were translating the Americans' words for us.
After all, they know that our actions are aimed toward peace. By
siding with Iran, the Europeans would serve their own and our
interests. But they will suffer only damage if they oppose us.
For our people is strong and determined.
The Europeans risk losing their position in the Middle East
entirely, and they are ruining their reputation in other parts
of the world. The others will think that the Europeans aren't
capable of solving problems.
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, we thank you for this
Interview conducted by Stefan Aust, Gerhard Spörl and
Dieter Bednarz in Tehran.