Moderator: Mr. President, your statements here today and in the past have provoked many questions which I would like to pose to you on behalf of the students and faculty who have submitted them to me.
Let me begin with the question to which you just alluded...The first question is: Do you or your government seek the destruction of the state of Israel as a Jewish state?
Ahmadinejad: We love all nations. We are friends with the Jewish people. There are many Jews in Iran, leaving peacefully, with security.
You must understand that in our constitution and our laws and in the parliamentary elections for every 150,000 people, we get one representative in the parliament. For the Jewish community, for one- fifth of this number, they still get one independent representative in the parliament.
So our proposal to the Palestinian plight is a humanitarian and democratic proposal. What we say is that to solve this 60-year problem, we must allow the Palestinian people to decide about its future for itself.
This is compatible with the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations and the fundamental principles enshrined in it. We must allow Jewish Palestinians, Muslim Palestinians and Christian Palestinians to determine their own fate themselves through a free referendum.
Ahmadinejad: Whatever they choose as a nation, everybody should accept and respect. Nobody should interfere in the affairs of the Palestinian nation. Nobody should sow the seeds of discord. Nobody should spend tens of billions of dollars equipping and arming one group there.
We say allow the Palestinian nation to decide its own future, to have the right to self-determination for itself. This is what we are saying as the Iranian nation.
Question: Mr. President, I think many members of our audience would like to hear a clearer answer to that question. That is...
The question is: Do you or your government seek the destruction of the state of Israel as a Jewish state? And I think you could answer that question with a single word, either yes or no.
Ahmadinejad: You asked the question, and then you want the answer the way you want to hear it. Well, this isn't really a free flow of information.
I'm just telling you what my position is. I'm asking you: Is the Palestinian issue not an international issue of prominence or not? Please tell me, yes or no?
There's the plight of a people.
Question: The answer to your question is yes.
Ahmadinejad: Well, thank you for your cooperation. We recognize there's a problem there that's been going on for 60 years. Everybody provides a solution. And our solution is a free referendum.
Let this referendum happen, and then you'll see what the results are. Let the people of Palestine freely choose what they want for their future. And then what you want in your mind to happen there will happen and will be realized.
Question: (off-mike, so repeated by the moderator): second question, which was posed by President Bollinger earlier and comes from a number of other students: Why is your government providing aid to terrorists?
Will you stop doing so and permit international monitoring to certify that you have stopped?
Ahmadinejad: Well, I want to pose a question here to you. If someone comes and explodes bombs around you, threatens your president, members of the administration, kills the members of the Senate or Congress, how would you treat them?
Would you reward them, or would you name them a terrorist group?
Well, it's clear. You would call them a terrorist.
My dear friends, the Iranian nation is a victim of terrorism. For --26 years ago, where I worked, close to where I worked, in a terrorist operation, the elected president of the Iranian nation and the elected prime minister of Iran lost their lives in a bomb explosion. They turned into ashes.
A month later, in another terrorist operation, 72 members of our parliament and highest-ranking officials, including four ministers and eight deputy ministers' bodies were shattered into pieces as a result of terrorist attacks.
Within six months, over 4,000 Iranians lost their lives, assassinated by terrorist groups. All this carried out by the hand of one single terrorist group. Regretfully, that same terrorist group now, today, in your country, is being -- operating under the support of the U.S. administration, working freely, distributing declarations freely, and their camps in Iraq are supported by the U.S. government.
They're secured by the U.S. government. Our nation has been harmed by terrorist activities. We were the first nation that objected to terrorism and the first to uphold the need to fight terrorism.
Question: Mr. President, a number of questioners -- sorry -- a number of people have asked...
Ahmadinejad: We need to address the root causes of terrorism and eradicate those root causes. We live in the Middle East. For us, it's quite clear which powers, sort of, incite terrorists, support them, fund them. We know that. Our nation, the Iranian nation, through history has always extended a hand of friendship to other nations. We're a cultured nation.
We don't need to resort to terrorism. We've been victims of terrorism, ourselves. And it's regrettable that people who argue they're fighting terrorism, instead of supporting the Iranian people and nation, instead of fighting the terrorists that are attacking them, they're supporting the terrorists and then turn the fingers to us. This is most regrettable.
Question: Mr. President, a further set of questions challenged your view of the Holocaust. Since the evidence that this occurred in Europe in the 1940s, as a result of the actions of the German Nazi government, since that -- those facts -- are well documented, why are you calling for additional research? There seems to be no purpose in doing so, other than to question whether the Holocaust actually occurred as a historical fact.
Can you explain why you believe more research is needed into the facts of what are -- what is -- what are incontrovertible?
Ahmadinejad: Thank you very much for your question. I am an academic, and you are as well.
Can you argue that researching a phenomenon is finished, forever done? Can we close the books for good on a historical event?
There are different perspectives that come to light after every research is done. Why should we stop research at all? Why should we stop the progress of science and knowledge?
You shouldn't ask me why I'm asking questions. You should ask yourselves why you think that that's questionable? Why do you want to stop the progress of science and research?
Do you ever take what's known as absolute in physics? We had principles in mathematics that were granted to be absolute in mathematics for over 800 years. But new science has gotten rid of those absolutisms, come forward other different logics of looking at mathematics and sort of turned the way we look at it as a science altogether after 800 years.
So, we must allow researchers, scholars, they investigate into everything, every phenomenon -- God, universe, human beings, history and civilization. Why should we stop that?
I am not saying that it didn't happen at all. This is not that judgment that I am passing here.
I said, in my second question, granted this happened, what does it have to do with the Palestinian people?
Ahmadinejad: This is a serious question. There are two dimensions. In the first question...
Question: Let me just -- let me pursue this a bit further.
It is difficult to have a scientific discussion if there isn't at least some basis, some empirical basis, some agreement about what the facts are. So calling for research into the facts when the facts are so well established represents for many a challenging of the facts themselves and a denial that something terrible occurred in Europe in those years.
Let me move on to...
Ahmadinejad: Allow me. After all, you are free to interpret what you want from what I say. But what I am saying I'm saying with full clarity.
In the first question I'm trying to actually uphold the rights of European scholars. In the field of science and research I'm asking, there is nothing known as absolute. There is nothing sufficiently done. Not in physics for certain. There has been more research on physics than it has on the Holocaust, but we still continue to do research on physics. There is nothing wrong with doing it.
This is what man wants. They want to approach a topic from different points of view. Scientists want to do that. Especially an issue that has become the foundation of so many other political developments that have unfolded in the Middle East in the past 60 years.
Why do we stop it altogether? You have to have a justified reason for it. The fact that it was researched sufficiently in the past is not a sufficient justification in my mind.
Question: Mr. President, another student asks -- Iranian women are now denied basic human rights and your government has imposed draconian punishments, including execution on Iranian citizens who are homosexuals. Why are you doing those things?
Ahmadinejad: Freedoms in Iran are genuine, true freedoms. Iranian people are free. Women in Iran enjoy the highest levels of freedom.
We have two deputy -- two vice presidents that are female, at the highest levels of specialty, specialized fields. In our parliament and our government and our universities, they're present. In our biotechnological fields, our technological fields, there are hundreds of women scientists that are active -- in the political realm as well.
It's not -- it's wrong for some governments, when they disagree with another government, to, sort of, try to spread lies that distort the full truth.
Our nation is free. It has the highest level of participation in elections, in Iran. Eighty percent, ninety percent of the people turn out for votes during the elections, half of which, over half of which are women. So how can we say that women are not free? Is that the entire truth?
But as for the executions, I'd like to raise two questions. If someone comes and establishes a network for illicit drug trafficking that affects the youth in Iran, Turkey, Europe, the United States, by introducing these illicit drugs and destroys them, would you ever reward them?
People who lead the lives -- cause the deterioration of the lives of hundreds of millions of youth around the world, including in Iran, can we have any sympathy to them? Don't you have capital punishment in the United States? You do, too.
In Iran, too, there's capital punishment for illicit drug traffickers, for people who violated the rights of people. If somebody takes up a gun, goes into a house, kills a group of people there, and then tries to take ransom, how would you confront them in Iran -- or in the United States? Would you reward them? Can a physician allow microbes symbolically speaking to spread across a nation?
We have laws. People who violate the public rights of the people by using guns, killing people, creating insecurity, sells drugs, distribute drugs at a high level are sentenced to execution in Iran.
And some of these punishments, very few, are carried in the public eye, before the public eye. It's a law, based on democratic principles. You use injections and microbes to kill these people, and they, they're executed or they're hung. But the end result is killing.
Question: Mr. President, the question isn't about criminal and drug smugglers. The question was about sexual preference and women.
Ahmadinejad: In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country. We don't have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have it. (laughter) But, as for women, maybe you think that being a woman is a crime. It's not a crime to be a woman.
Women are the best creatures created by God. They represent the kindness, the beauty that God instills in them. Women are respected in Iran. In Iran, every family who is given a girl -- is given -- in every Iranian family who has a girl, they are 10 times happier than having a son. Women are respected more than men are.
They are exempt from many responsibilities. Many of the legal responsibilities rest on the shoulders of men in our society because of the respect, culturally given, to women, to the future mothers. In Iranian culture, men and sons and girls constantly kiss the hands of their mothers as a sign of respect, respect for women. And we are proud of this culture.
Question: Mr. President, I have two questions which I'll put together.
One is, what did you hope to accomplish by speaking at Columbia today? And the second is, what would you have said if you were permitted to visit the site of the September 11th tragedy?
Ahmadinejad: Well, here, I'm your guest. I've been invited by Columbia, an official invitation given for me to come here. But I do want to say something here.
In Iran, when you invite a guest, you respect them. This is our tradition, required by our culture. And I know that American people have that culture, as well. Last year, I wanted to go to the site of the September 11th tragedy to show respect to the victims of the tragedy, to show my sympathy with their families.
But our plans got overextended. We were involved in negotiations and meetings until midnight. And they said it would be very difficult to go visit the site at that late hour of the night. So, I told my friends then that they need to plan this for the following year so that I can go and visit the site and to show my respects.
Regretfully, some groups had very strong reactions, very bad reactions. It's bad for someone to prevent someone to show sympathy to the families of the victims of the September 11 event -- tragic event. This is a respect from my side. Somebody told me this is an insult. I said, "What are you saying? This is my way of showing my respect. Why would you think that?"
Thinking like that, how do you expect to manage the world and world affairs?
Ahmadinejad: Don't you think that a lot of problems in the world come from the way you look at issues because of this kind of way of thinking, because of this sort of pessimistic approach toward a lot of people, because of a certain level of selfishness, self-absorption that needs to be put aside so that we can show respect to everyone, to allow an environment for friendship to grow, to allow all nations to talk with one another and move toward peace?
What was the second question?
I wanted to speak with the press. The September 11th tragic event was a huge event. It led to a lot of many other events afterwards. After 9/11 Afghanistan was occupied, and then Iraq was occupied. And for six years in our region there is insecurity, terror and fear.
If the root causes of 9/11 are examined properly -- why it was happened, what caused it, what were the conditions that led to it, who truly was involved, who was really involved -- and put it all together to understand how to prevent the crisis in Iraq, fix the problem in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
Question: Mr. President, a number of questions have asked about your nuclear program. Why is your government seeking to acquire enriched uranium suitable for nuclear weapons? Will you stop doing so?
Ahmadinejad: Our nuclear program, first and foremost, operates within the framework of law. And, second, under the inspections of the IAEA. And, thirdly, they are completely peaceful. The technology we have is for enrichment below the level of 5 percent level.
And any level below 5 percent is solely for providing fuel to power plants. Repeated reports by the IAEA explicitly say that there is no indication that Iran has deviated from the peaceful path of its nuclear program.
We are all well aware that Iran's nuclear issue is a political issue. It's not a legal issue. The international atomic energy organization -- agency has verified that our activities are for peaceful purposes.
But there are two or three powers that think that they have the right to monopolize all science and knowledge. And they expect the Iranian people, the Iranian nation, to turn to others to get fuel, to get science, to get knowledge that's indigenous to itself, to humble itself. And then they would, of course, refrain from giving it to us, too.
So we're quite clear what we need.
If you have created the fifth generation of atomic bombs and are testing them already, what position are you in to question the peaceful purposes of other people who want nuclear power?
We do not believe in nuclear weapons, period. It goes against the whole grain of humanity.
So let me just joke -- try to tell a joke here. I think the politicians who are after atomic bombs or are testing them, making them, politically, they are backward, retarded.
Question: Mr. President, a final question. I know your time is short and that you need to move on. Is Iran prepared to open broad discussions with the government of the United States? What would Iran hope to achieve in such discussions? How do you see, in the future, a resolution of the points of conflict between the government of the United States and the government of Iran?
Ahmadinejad: From the start, we announced that we are ready to negotiate with all countries. Since 28 years ago, when our revolution succeeded and we established, we took freedom and democracy that was held at bay by a pro-Western dictatorship. We announced our readiness that besides two countries, we are ready to have friendly relations and talks with all countries of the world.
One of those two was the apartheid regime of South Africa, which has been eliminated. And the second was the Zionist regime. For everybody else around the world, we announced that we want to have friendly, brotherly ties. The Iranian nation is a cultured nation. It is a civilized nation. It seeks -- it wants talks and negotiations. It's for it.
We believe that in negotiations and talks, everything can be resolved very easily. We don't need threats. We don't need to point bombs or guns. We don't need to get into conflicts if we talk. We have a clear logic about that.
We question the way the world is being run and managed today. We believe that it will not lead to viable peace and security for the world, the way it's run today.