Dangerous Neighborhood; Hard Questions about Nukes, Civil War and Other Sore Topics for the Presidents of Two of the Hottest Spots in the Middle East

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Byline: Lally Weymouth

Iran and Iraq go side by side, not only on maps but among America's most urgent challenges. As the U.N. General Assembly convened last week in New York, the two presidents talked separately to NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth. While Iraq's president is optimistic about his country's future, Iran's president remains intransigent in his refusal to halt nuclear-related activities as demanded by the United States as a precondition for talks. Excerpts:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

WEYMOUTH: Will you stop enrichment and reprocessing activities?

AHMADINEJAD: Why should we agree to that? There is no such provision in the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty].

Didn't you put that in question when you violated the NPT for more than 10 years? Do you recognize those violations?

It is the right of all member states of the NPT to have the technology for fuel reprocessing.

But don't responsibilities go with rights?

The problem is some believe that they sit above the law. They produce bombs and use them too. That is where the problem lies.

Do you think it would be in Iran's interest to move toward a normal relationship with the United States?

We are interested in having talks with everyone ... but the U.S. administration--that is, a section of the U.S. administration--does not create the right circumstances. They believe that they own the entire world, so they speak from that position, looking down at us. Some politicians in the United States think that the nuclear issue is a way to put pressure on Iran, but they are wrong. [A country] that has actually produced and used nuclear bombs cannot claim that they now want to stop proliferation.

Are you really serious when you say that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth?

We need to look at the scene in the Middle East--60 years of war, 60 years of displacement, 60 years of conflict, not even a day of peace. We need to address and resolve the root problem.

Your suggestion is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth?

Our suggestion is very clear ... Let the Palestinian people decide their fate in a free and fair referendum, and the result, whatever it is, should be accepted ... The people with no roots there are now ruling the land.

You've been quoted as saying Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth. Is that your belief?

What I have said has made my position clear. If we look at a map of the Middle East from 70 years ago ...

So the answer is yes?

Is this a test? Do you respect the right to self-determination for the Palestinian nation? Yes or no?

If the Palestinian people opted for a two-state solution, would you support that decision?

Israel currently occupies Palestine. Where did they come from? They should return.

You've made statements about the Holocaust, saying it was exaggerated. Is that your opinion?

It's not the numbers that are important ... We know this was a historical event that happened. But why is it that people who question it are persecuted and attacked?

There is a crisis of violence in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki recently asked for your help. Will you help him?

We've supported the Iraqi government from the start. We will support the political process in Iraq.

Everyone in the region says the result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq is that Iran is more powerful than ever.

Do you think there is a problem with Iran being a powerful country? A powerful Iran will benefit the region, because Iran is a country with a deep culture and has always been a peaceful country.

Are you going to continue backing terror groups--Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad?

Why do you call them terrorists? If someone occupied the United States and the American people rose to defend their home, would you call the American people terrorists? …