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A Conversation With Hassan Rouhani

Speakers: Hassan Rouhani, President, Islamic Republic of Iran, Mohammad Khazaee, Ambassador to the United Nations, Islamic Republic of Iran, Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations, Josette Sheeran, President, Asia Society, and Jarvad Zarif, Foreign Minister, Islamic Republic of Iran
September 26, 2013

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KHAZAEE: Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honor and pleasure for me as the ambassador and permanent representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the United Nations to be able to make the necessary arrangement for making this meeting happen.

Allow me first, Excellency, to thank you for accepting to participate at this meeting, despite your tight schedule during your short (inaudible) I also extend my appreciation to both Mr. Richard Haass, president of Council on Foreign Relations, and with Josette Sheeran, president of Asia Society, for famously (inaudible) colleagues to organize this meeting.

I should also thank Ms. Sheeran for (inaudible) this important discussion and Ms. Susan DiMaggio, vice president of global policy programs at Asia Society, who first came up with the idea of this (inaudible) in organizing this meeting (inaudible) your excellency during (inaudible)

I should not fail to thank and appreciate the distinguished participants for their presence here today. They include distinguished leaders and members of the United States think-tank community from many parts of the United States, as well as a number of respected journalists from very established U.S. media.

With your presence, Mr. President, and with distinguished audience, I have no doubt that this meeting could be successful in contributing to a better understanding of the issues that have preoccupied both sides for many years.

This meeting is held at an important juncture in the long, turbulent relationship between our two countries, Iran and the United States, a juncture marked by (inaudible) brought about by the recent groundbreaking presidential election in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the choice that the Iranian people made (inaudible) Rouhani was elected as president.

The clear-cut mandate that your excellency received in the election from the (inaudible) and the continued support for the direction of your foreign policy have created conducive environment for effectively addressing all foreign policy issues. We hope that we can find our counterparts at halfway point on each issue at hand and finally satisfy (inaudible) that (inaudible)

I think I should stop here and invite my dear friend, Mr. Richard Haass, to making a statement. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

HAASS: Well, thank you, Ambassador Khazaee, for that introduction and for that welcome and for all you did to make tonight's meeting possible. Good evening. I am Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and on behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society, I want to welcome all of you to this meeting with Hassan Rouhani, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And, of course, I want to make a personal welcome to the president.

Now, contrary to the predictions of many experts, Dr. Rouhani was elected -- decisively, I would add -- this past June as Iran's seventh president. Before that, he was a prolific author. And I was going to say he may be too busy now to be working on another book, but when we were talking beforehand, I learned he's working on several. And he also comes to this position with tremendous experience, having held a number of the most important positions in his government.

Now, it's hardly a secret to anyone in this room that there has been tremendous interest, not just in this city, but around the country and, indeed, the world surrounding this visit by President Rouhani to New York and to the United Nations. One of the reasons for this intense interest is that the United States and Iran have held themselves at arm's-length for some three-and-a-half decades.

This has made it difficult for Americans to visit Iran and vice versa. Indeed, my first trip to Iran was in 1978, but also turned out to be my last trip.

During these decades, there were moments of constructive interaction involving officials of the two countries. American and Iranian officials, for example, worked together in forming the government that came to replace the Taliban in Afghanistan in early 2002. But more often than not, the two countries have been divided by differing narratives and interests and have worked at cross purposes.

And so the question naturally arises whether this will continue to be the case moving forward. Many Americans and others around the world harbor concerns about Iran's policy towards Syria, its approach to Israel, and its treatment of its own citizens. But the most pressing and the most consequential questions involve Iran's nuclear activities.

In his speech just two days ago here at the United Nations, President Rouhani said that Iran seeks to resolve problems and not to create them, setting out what he described as the nuclear dossier as a case in point, and he also emphasized that Iran's nuclear program would exclusively be for peaceful purposes.

At the same time, President Rouhani stated that Iran must have the right to enrich uranium inside the country and enjoy other related nuclear rights, pointing out that, quote, "nuclear knowledge has been domesticated now and the nuclear technology has already reached industrial scale," close quote. This may well be true, but while this is where negotiations will necessarily begin, it is unlikely to be where they end if they are to have a meaningful chance of succeeding.

President Rouhani noted that we, the United States and Iran, can arrive at a framework to manage our differences. What I would say here is that there is great interest on what Iran might be prepared to accept in the way of significant constraints and obligations when it comes to its nuclear program, what it requires in turn in the realm of the easing of economic sanctions, and how the government might choose to define what Iran's supreme leader recently called heroic flexibility.

In short, the stakes are considerable, matched only by the urgency. This should make for an important meeting here tonight. President Rouhani will give some remarks, after which a question-and-answer session, which we assure will be both probing and informative, will be moderated by Josette Sheeran, the president of the Asia Society.

So, Mr. President, thank you again for agreeing to meet with the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society here in New York this evening.

(APPLAUSE)

ROUHANI (through translator): (OFF-MIKE) in the name of God, the compassion, the merciful, ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to meet with you face-to-face and discuss a number of issues that have preoccupied all of us for many years.

I believe I can talk to you today as a colleague, just as colleagues talk to each other, as I had the same job as yours until recently, leading a think-tank, the Center for Strategic Research in Tehran, for many years. I believe that more interaction at the level of think-tanks may help foster more accurate knowledge and understanding among the people and leaders of our two countries, thwarting biases and false prejudgments from serving as bases for policymaking.

During my recent tenure in office as president, moderation and wisdom will guide my government in making and implementing policies in every field. I ran on the platform of moderation and won the election by a large margin. By virtue of the strong mandate that I received from the electorate, I am committed to operating in the framework of moderation, which calls inter alia for a balance between realism and the pursuit of the ideals of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In foreign policy, that brings me to discard any extreme approach in the conduct of our relations with other states. In this framework, we will seek effective and constructive understanding and interaction with the outside world, focus on mutual confidence-building with our neighbors and other regional and international actors, and try to orient our foreign policy towards economic development of our country.

To this end, we will work on easing and removing tensions in our foreign relations and strengthening our relationship with our traditional and new partners in all the regions. To do so, we obviously need consensus-building at the national level and setting goals transparently, which is underway.

While we will avoid confrontation and antagonism, at the same time, we will actively pursue our larger interests as we are living in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. We believe that challenges could only be addressed through interaction and active cooperation among states. Global challenges require collective responses. No country by itself and in an isolated manner would ever be able to effectively address the challenges it faces. Big powers are no exception to this rule, as they increasingly find it difficult to address unilaterally the specific challenges that they face, as well.

The rapid growth of developing and emerging economies -- the rapid growth of developing and emerging economies and their ability to achieve what is called catch-up growth suggests that their aggregate economic weight is about to surpass that of the advanced world.

Longer-term forecasts suggest that today's developing and emerging countries are likely to account for nearly 60 percent of world GDP by 2030, up from around 40 percent in 2000, which would enable them to play a much greater role in global politics. Under such circumstances, and while interdependence and competitive cooperative approach, and not enmity, is the order of the day, zero-sum game and win-lose approaches in international relations has already lost ground when it comes to international ties, as no country could pursue its interests at expense of others.

Those who may still insist on adopting and advancing such approaches will end up imposing a lose-lose approach on themselves, as well as others. In such period of transition, Iran has actual and potential capabilities for enhancing its role in the world arena. Our values are increasingly taking roots. The recent election in Iran in which close to 75 percent of the eligible voters turned out to vote showed how we -- how what we call religious democracy is maturing.

Iran's millennial culture and civilization, its exceptional Iranian state continuity, rooted in millennia, its distinguished geopolitics, the characteristics that foster Iran's social stability in the midst of a region in turmoil, as well as the pull (ph) of its well-educated youth, all in all enable us to confidently look to the future and aspire to assume the major role in -- a major role at the global level that our people deserve, a role that no actor in global politics can ever ignore.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are also considering the aspects of rebuilding and improving our bilateral and multilateral relations with the countries of Europe and North America, on the basis of mutual respect and equal footing. That would include working on easing off any tension, removing hurdles in the way, and comprehensively developing relations, including economic ties.

We can begin by avoiding any new tension in Iran-U.S. relationship and, at the same time, endeavor towards removing tensions that we inherited from the past, tensions that continue to mar the relations between our two countries. While we may not be able to forget the major source of mistrust and suspicion that haunted the minds of the Iranian people in their thinking about the U.S. government in the past 60 years, we need, however, to focus, rather, on the current situation and look forward to the future, trying to turn the turbulent past into a beacon lighting for the path ahead.

As leaders, we need to rise above petty politics and lead, rather than follow, the various interests and pressure groups in our respective countries. In our view, building on and cooperating about issues of interest and concern to both sides could also be another starting point, as it would be in the interest of easing off the ongoing tensions in our region, as well. In so doing, we need to counter those interest groups here in the U.S. and there in the region whose objective is to keep Iran as an issue that is a boiling one.

They seek to further their goal of distracting international attention from issues directly involving themselves and precluding Iran from enhancing its status in the region and diminishing the chance for a negotiated agreement on the Iranian nuclear program and thus increase the chances of a continued Iran-U.S. standoff.

Ladies and gentlemen, the choice the Iranian people made in the recent election came at a time when our region is more than ever grappling with sectarianism, enmities among different groups, and potential new breeding grounds and instigation for extremism and terrorism. At the same time, the recent use of chemical weapons in Syria could haunt the people in the region for many years to come.

We believe that under such circumstances a voice of moderation emanating from the region would have a soothing effect and could impact the course of events in a constructive and positive way. It is unfortunate that, as we speak, many countries in our region wrestle with domestic and/or international issues and challenges with grave repercussions for other regional and international actors. There is no doubt that they mostly consist of issues of interest and concern to many regional and global actors who need to join force and make common efforts to address them.

My country, as a major power in the region, is fully prepared to move in this direction and spare no effort to facilitate solutions to these issues, thus contributing to the maintenance of international and regional peace and stability. Under these circumstances, we consider the efforts by certain capitals aimed at portraying Iran as a threat and undermining Iran's credibility in the region and in the world as counterproductive, and they should cease in the interests of peace and tranquility in the region and beyond.

I am profoundly disturbed over the spawning humanitarian tragedy in Syria and the enormous suffering that the Syrian people have incurred over the past two years and half. Representing a people who experienced the horror of chemical weapons, my government strongly condemned the use of chemical weapons in the ongoing conflict in Syria. I am also concerned about the breeding grounds created in parts of Syrian territory for extremist ideologies and rallying point for terrorists, which is reminiscent of the situation in another region adjacent to our eastern borders in the 1990s.

This is an issue of concern, not only to us, but also to many other countries, which requires cooperation and joint efforts aimed at finding a durable intra-Syrian political solution.

At the same time, we are pleased that diplomacy finally could have its way with regard to at least one aspect of -- of Syrian crisis and sober judgment prevailed over saber rattling. We need to build on the partial headway that was made and try to reach an understanding on the fact that Syria is now a place in dire need of coordinated regional and international efforts.

We are ready to contribute to peace and stability in Syria in the course of any serious negotiations among regional and extra-regional parties. Here, too, as in everywhere else, we need to avoid embroiling in a zero-sum game.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to conclude by briefly touching upon the Iranian peaceful nuclear energy program, which has been subject to enormous hype over the past several decades. You know that -- how many predictions regarding how close Iran was to acquire a nuclear bomb proved to be baseless? We can trace these predictions back to the early 1990s. Throughout this periods, alarmists kept trying to paint the face of Iran as a threatening one to its region and the whole world, a claim that has always turned out to be utterly false.

And we all know also who the chief agitator is and what purposes are to be served by hyping this issue. We know also that this claim fluctuates in proportion to the size of the international pressure to stop the settlement activity and end the occupation of Palestinian lands.

These false alarming bells are oblivious, among other things, to the fact that the U.S. national intelligence estimates maintained that Iran has not decided to build a nuclear bomb.

We are committed not to work towards developing and producing nuclear bomb. As enunciated in the fatwa issued by the leader of the Islamic revolution, we strongly believe that the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are contrary to the Islamic norms. I also should reiterate that we never contemplated the option of acquiring nuclear weapons. We believe that such weapons could undermine our national security interests. And as such, they have no place in Iran's security doctrine, and even the perception that Iran may pursue a nuclear weapons program is detrimental to our security and overall interests.

During my presidential campaign, I committed myself to do whatever in my power to fast-track a solution for the standoff over the nuclear energy program. To fulfill this commitment and benefit from the window of opportunity that the recent election opened up, my government is prepared to leave no stone unturned in seeking for a mutually acceptable solution. To this end, we are ready to work with 5-plus-one, its members, and others with a view to ensuring full transparency under international law surrounding our nuclear program.

The peaceful nuclear capability that we have achieved is bound to be exercised within a transparent internationally recognized framework, accessible to the IAEA under its safeguards mechanisms and international monitoring, as has been the case in the past several years. We believe that it is in this appropriate and lawful way that the international community can ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program.

In such a framework, we are also ready to work towards removing any ambiguity and answer any reasonable question about Iran's peaceful nuclear program.

Having done so, let me reiterate that we will never forgo our inherent right to benefit from peaceful nuclear technology, including nuclear enrichment, under any circumstances. The continuation of pressure, arms-twisting, intimidation, and extraterritorially imposed measures directed against the Iranian people and innocent civilians trying to prevent them from having access to a whole range of necessities, from technology to medicine, from science to foodstuff, could only poison the atmosphere and undermine the conditions necessary for making progress and weaken our resolve.

With the above elements in mind, we are fully prepared to seriously engage in the process towards a negotiated and mutually agreeable settlement and do so in good faith and with a businesslike mind. We hope that our counterparts, too, benefit from this window of opportunity and are as much serious and ready to come along with an open mind and predicated on concrete and objective norms and criteria.

While thanking you, ladies and gentlemen, for listening to my remarks, I now look forward to listening to your comments and taking your questions. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

SHEERAN: Well, Mr. President, we thank you very much for those remarks. And I know on behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society, we're very pleased that you decided to partake in the only public session during your time here in a meeting with the public, and we think it's very important. And we're also very pleased that you've agreed to take questions not only from this very distinguished group here, but also from others who are with us via Facebook and Twitter, and we're getting many questions. I think I have over 40 questions for you.

But I just want to start, because you really ended...

ROUHANI: Forty or fourteen?

SHEERAN: Fourteen.

(LAUGHTER)

And more will come in, I'm sure. You're nearing the end of your first trip as president here to the United States, and you talked about ushering in a new era of relations, and you just spoke again about opening a window of opportunity.

President Obama, in his speech at the United Nations, mentioned Iran 26 times. Was there something you heard in that speech that made you feel that there is a window that has opened? And when you go back home, what will you report back to the supreme leader and others in Iran about what you have seen here and learned here about this new era?

ROUHANI (through translator): I, too, feel that a new era has been created around the world, as it has inside Iran, a new atmosphere, I would say. In fact, the exciting elections that took place and the vote of the people in Iran for moderation and wisdom and hope and prudence has led to a new -- the creation of a new atmosphere for engagement and interaction with the entire world.

In the series of speeches that I have delivered at the U.N. General Assembly, and on the sideline meetings that I held with a number of world leaders, as well as a number of European leaders, I have arrived at the conclusion that the atmosphere is different completely from the past. I felt that the will demonstrated by Iran as a result of its recent elections to look more towards the future, rather than in the past, is a vision that is also shared among Western leaders.

What I can say to the people of Iran and their representatives and the authorities in the country, as well as the supreme leader, is that today the world atmosphere, as I see it, is much better than the past. Even in America, it's much better than the past. And the sense of being prepared to watch us take serious steps forward, not only to settle what has happened in the past, but more importantly to move forward to realize the common interest that await us from materialization (ph), I think if I keep on talking with so lengthy -- at such length, we'll have to have breakfast by the time I end up answering all 40 questions.

(LAUGHTER)

SHEERAN: Mr. President, you made it clear in that interview with David Ignatius of the Washington Post that you want to move quickly and -- and have pointed out that Iran's nuclear program has been widely seen and perceived as a threat, in particular by Israel and in particular as a ripe trigger for potential nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

Now, President Obama in his speech cited two things that he felt were particularly of note in moving ahead. One was the supreme leader's issuing of a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and your statement that Iran will never develop a nuclear weapon.

But also it's been clear that the next step is concrete action. Now, we see that the end game for the U.S., the outlines will certainly involve some agreement to commit to the peaceful development only with transparent and verifiable and open inspections, greater inspection access, also a limiting of the nuclear facilities, a limiting of the stockpiles of enriched material, and a cap on enrichment somewhere below the 5 percent threshold.

So we know the outlines of some of the end game there. But what does your end game look like? What are you looking for in these three months to six months that you cited? And do you think you can get there?

ROUHANI (through translator): Well, the depth and detail of the question that has risen, I can say, in response I have -- are of such nature that would have to be addressed mainly at the P5-plus-one. But in principle, what I'd like to say is that the people of Iran, like all other nations, have decided to take advantage of one of their rights, to use one of their rights, in other words, of course, any country can use one of its rights and choose not to at the same time, but the Iranian people have chosen to use that right of attaining nuclear technology, to use it for their benefit, and, in fact, under very difficult circumstances, their own nuclear scientists, who were very young ones, have been able to attain that for the country.

So under these circumstances, it's natural that the people of Iran want to ensure that their rights are realized, just as any other nation would. Right now in the world, more than 40 countries have embarked on enrichment programs, some within the framework of the safeguards agreement, and even some outside of safeguards agreement framework, but for the Islamic Republic of Iran, all these activities have been within the safeguards agreement and have continually and will continue to remain under the supervision of the IAEA. Now, this is one side of the story, to ensure that Iran's right remains intact.

The second issue is that, should there be concerns, if they are rational, rather than propagandists and irrational ones, that those rational concerns must be addressed and settled in -- in, in fact, achieving our rights and goals, we do not wish to ignore the interests of any other country. We do not seek to go into war with any country. We do not seek to produce any weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, and therefore, should there be any concerns, it is crucial to us to remove those concerns.

We'd like to do that, just this afternoon, since 4 p.m. under maybe right now or maybe a little -- it may have ended, the P5-plus-one was happening at the level of foreign ministers. And Ms. Ashton was there. And we hope that this positive step that has been taken as a first solid and strong step will help us continue talks and that, within a short timeframe now, the gentleman who questioned me said three months or six months. I said the sooner, the better, I'd say. The sooner, the better, if we can settle this issue, because we think that the speedy settlement of this issue will benefit both sides, both Iran and the other negotiating partners.

SHEERAN: (OFF-MIKE) have said that in recent interviews you have said that Iran will insist on operating enough centrifuges to produce fuel for Bushehr, and he's asking how many centrifuges does that require?

ROUHANI (through translator): I don't think the numbers really matter, for those who are asking the questions. In all the reports by the IAEA, which are periodically issued every three months, the number of centrifuges is announced, declared, the active centrifuges, as well as the inactive centrifuges.

In the most recent report of the IAEA, as well as in the past, once these numbers have been enumerated and the UF6 gas (ph) to the extent to which it's actually being fed into and how many have actually been installed (ph), there's all others (ph), so the number of these centrifuges is not a hidden number. Even if you go on the IAEA website right now and check out the number of Iran's centrifuges, you can check it out for yourself. You'll just see the numbers right there.

SHEERAN: (OFF-MIKE) question from Facebook, from Kumar Abbas Toure (ph). And he says, "If you along with the supreme leader are very confident to say that Iran will never go for nuclear weapons, then what made Iran opt for isolation for so long? Why all the suffering for something you don't intend to have?"

ROUHANI (through translator): Well, just what I said in my speech, as well. There is a group that through false propaganda has sought to portray Iran as a threat, and by portraying Iran as a threat, to bring pressure on people. Those who have placed this pressure on Iran should be asked when they chose to exert such pressure on the people of Iran, why to such extent, when Iran's intended activities are fully peaceful and when the IAEA has said in all its reports that it has found no evidence of deviation in Iran's activities.

SHEERAN: This is a question from Nazib Boeinia (ph) of Columbia University. She says, "As an Iranian-American Jew, I want nothing more than rapprochement between Iran and Israel. You have become an enormously popular figure," she says, "with your diplomatic overtures. How do you plan to gain and maintain the support of the hardliners to break the impasse?"

ROUHANI (through translator): In principle, those who are -- are -- have radical views, whether in Iran or outside Iran, extreme views, I would say that the goal of my government is to marginalize and isolate extremism and to eventually just completely see it evaporate, because extremism in general is dangerous whether for inside Iran or for the entire region, especially given the current circumstances in our region, where extremism is now showing itself in the form of terrorism.

So in principle, the foundation of our efforts are geared to making this happen and realize, but, of course, all countries have to also move along with us on this path. We do not seek to go into war with any country. We seek to have a stable and peaceful region that can achieve development, and we, therefore, believe -- meaning my government -- believes that it will always seek and create moderation.

SHEERAN: (OFF-MIKE) and your speech at the United Nations, you cited the need to end what you called destructive discrimination in the world. And yet many have felt concerned about the treatment in Iran of its own women, minorities, press, government critics, even the artists and poets and musicians sometimes. Could you talk about what you envision under your leadership for opportunities for women in Iran? Can we see the day when they'll have equal opportunities to that of men? And also, can you confirm that it's no longer the policy of your government to imprison critics?

ROUHANI (through translator): You know that one of my motives during the election campaign was to emphasize the need for citizenship rights and to build equal opportunities for men and women. And you know that, in Iran, women are quite remarkably advanced and have achieved such advancements in recent years, perhaps unprecedented compared to any other country that surrounds us and in our region, given the fast level of advancement in the recent number of years that occurred. Today more than half our university population constitutes women. They are present actively in our scientific and industrial levels, in our medical field, in our hospitals, in our offices, in the administrative sector, in the various industrial sectors, and the service sector. You'll see women active everywhere.

The goal of this government is to create social opportunities for men and women that are completely equal. Therefore, I have actually said to my cabinet members that at the level of deputy ministers, as well as director generals and senior managerial positions, or -- wherever there are qualified women, those qualified women should be used in order to make up for the gap from the past, because after all, we still need to build an inherent and expanding environment, to build that equal -- equality and equilibrium for women in the workforce.

So when it comes to the issue of the status of women, the government will remain committed to the vows it made and the pledges it made. I'd like to add that we don't like to have anyone or see anyone in prison. We like to have empty prisons. In the past several weeks, some good, positive measures were taken in this regard, and I hope they will continue.

SHEERAN: Mr. President, Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch notes the release of the 80 political prisoners, but mentions that hundreds more remain, and what steps might be taken to release all of them.

ROUHANI (through translator): Well, I responded to this at the end of my -- just -- you know, recent comment. I said that we've taken the first and early steps, and we will continue.

SHEERAN: There are many questions about how you're going to handle this rapprochement and the pressure from all sides and how you will navigate that, including from Jasmin Ramsey, a reporter for IPS News, who's here. And with anyone, who would oppose the kind of rapprochement that would be envisioned? And how serious should that opposition be taken? Can it block the path forward?

ROUHANI (through translator): After all, in Iranian society, you find the vast spectrum of very different views, different gatherings and associations and activities, and they all do whatever they do. So I don't quite still understand what your question is here.

SHEERAN: I think it's, you know, on how you're going to navigate the domestic part of this new era that you're trying to open.

ROUHANI (through translator): Well, the government, after all, has actually witnessed a new era, a new environment that has been created by the people, I would say. So given that it's created by the people, has brought about new conditions inside the country, and just as we are active in social, political and cultural fields, we -- and the more we do in those fields, the more we will realize that this way of thought that is beginning to shape based on moderation will get stronger, and this can advance further, as time advances, and those who oppose it will normally just weaken in the process. But this is a long path, having said that, and we are just taking the initial steps here.

SHEERAN: (OFF-MIKE) talked about the opening in Iran, the possibility of opening of Facebook and Twitter. Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council asked about the possible opening of interests sections staffed by Americans in Tehran or here to process visas, facilitate exchanges. Do you see -- how quickly do you see the possibility of an opening to the ideas and access to the debate globally for the people of Iran?

ROUHANI (through translator): Among the programs that the government has considered seriously is to ensure that people must have sufficient access to information, and that in the access to information, they will -- can benefit from the various ideas around globally, get a sense of what it is globally, and, of course, just as I also said in an interview, any country, when it comes to the virtual world, has some moral and ethical frame of reference that it tries to keep up and preserve. And in the same token, the Islamic Republic of Iran expects that its ethical framework, the frame of reference for approaching the virtual world, is preserved.

But at the same time, to expand the opportunities for our people, to access information globally, we are interested in seeing nations have closer relations with each other. Perhaps to bring Iran and the United States closer, the initial steps may likely have to be taken by the people. They have to start it, very likely. If an environment is created where the -- you know, the exchanges are done easily, more easily Iranians can come here more easily and people from here can go to Iran more easily, then this will be actually create a public diplomacy venue that will also expand the overall diplomatic activities and the extra steps that we need to take.

SHEERAN: (OFF-MIKE) Jon Williams of ABC News says, there are many technologically smart and savvy young people in Iran. And I know they're waiting for that opening. How about the issue of access to satellite television? And removing the block for that?

ROUHANI (through translator): Satellite television, you'll find it every village in Iran. Of course, the villages, they have more of them than the urban areas. If you -- if -- just look at the rooftops. You'll get a sense.

I think that in the world today, these things are kind of, you know, a little old (inaudible) in a sense. All countries have -- all people have access to satellite networks, and the people of Iran have it, too.

SHEERAN: (OFF-MIKE) stay on the topic of communications and openness, and there's a great curiosity. You have authored numerous books. You -- you have a few still on the writing. But which books you have read that have been most influential to you?

ROUHANI (through translator): Well, in the last couple of months, I haven't really had much time, unfortunately, to even read a book. But the last book that I was able to just leaf through and examine was about the orders of governance by Alia Nabli Taleb (ph), Imam Ali, which was very interesting to me.

But as you said yourself, I have written some books itself, and I'm about to complete one right now. And I hope that, by the end of this year, it will be ready for publication. And this is about foreign policy.

SHEERAN: (OFF-MIKE) what aspect of foreign policy?

ROUHANI (through translator): In general, about the interaction between foreign policy and national security on a comparative basis in the context of Iran, to examine to what extent foreign policy must support national security and what the relationship and balance between the two should be.

SHEERAN: Mr. President, there's a number of questions to help clarify the confusion about your statements regarding a very sensitive issue, the Holocaust. You said different things, but rather than try to understand this, would you like to take this opportunity to clarify your views and any confusion over the issue?

ROUHANI (through translator): I think that I have responded in one or two interviews and in which I was asked about it, and I explained that we condemn the crimes by Nazis in the World War II, and regrettably those crimes were committed against many groups, many people. Many people were killed, including a group of Jewish people.

And we condemn their crimes in general. We condemn the murder and killing of innocent people always. It makes no difference to us, when that person is innocent and is killed, whether he or she was Jewish or Christian or Muslim. There's just no difference in our eyes. We condemn crimes as such.

But the argument here is that if the Nazis committed a crime, this does not mean that the price paid for it should be done by other people elsewhere. This is no and should not be -- serve as any justification to push out from their homes a group of people because of what Nazis did. Although that crime by the Nazis is definitely condemnable, oppressing people in another part is also condemnable, because people should be allowed to return to their homes and to their lands.

SHEERAN: Well, to follow on that question, if there is momentum finally for a Middle East peace solution that recognizes two states, is this something that Iran could get behind?

ROUHANI (through translator): Well, you know, of course that -- the question of peace in the Middle East has been on the table as a subject for many long years. And unfortunately, it's never really reached a conclusion.

On the question of Palestine, whatever the people of Palestine accept, we shall accept, as well. The decision-makers about Palestine are the people of Palestine, the Palestinians, and if they accept something, we will also support the demands of the people.

SHEERAN: (OFF-MIKE) Mr. President, to stay in the region, on the issue of Syria, Iran has stated that it should be at the table, it needs to be at the table. What would Iran bring to the table? What perspective would you bring right now to the table of Syria? And what can Iran offer to ensure that Syria lives up to the demands to be rid of the chemical weapons?

ROUHANI (through translator): There are two issues here. One is the Syrian issue in general, and the other is the issue of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, that confront us on (ph) the question of Syria.

Well, we completely condemn the use of chemical weapons by whoever. Whoever has used it is condemnable. It is an inhumane act. It is unacceptable, and it is extremely dangerous for our region, because, after all, you know that we have been victims of chemical weapons ourselves. We know more than -- we know how dangerous these weapons are.

After years since our own war in the '80s, we have people who are suffering from their chem injuries as a result of the use of chemical weapons and the course of the war to this day in our hospitals. So we know how inhumane it is. And therefore, we believe that the Middle East region should be free of weapons of mass destruction, whether chemical, biological, or nuclear, completely eradicated these weapons should be from our region, therefore, that we must have a Middle East region free of nuclear weapons.

As you know, it has been a proposal of Iran from years back, and in fact today in the conference on disarmament at the General Assembly, a special convening on the discussion of the disarmament aspects of this issue, I did emphasize that the Middle East region should become a part -- a region that is one zone free of nuclear weapons.

Therefore, one part -- hello. More strength to you. Addressing the foreign minister who just entered the room.

Would you like to participate (inaudible) please, be my guest. Would you like to?

So this is one issue here. Now, we are happy that Syria has agreed to access -- accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention, CWC. And we encourage that every country that should have such weapons should join CWC, so as to help eradicate chemical weapons from the region.

Another issue is the subject of Syria, which is a very complex subject. It has various, you know, dimensions and issues. But right now, what's being considered is the Geneva II talks and the countries that will take a part in it, which countries would -- or, you know, when it will be held. And what is being done Syria, the international level, is one about Geneva II, and the other one is about a resolution in the hands -- pending in the hands of the U.N. Security Council.

So we are in touch with our neighbors and with Syria's neighbors closely right now in an effort to bring to an end the war in Syria as soon as possible, the massacre in Syria as soon as possible, the civil war must come to an end as soon as possible. And on the other hand, we believe that the people of Syria, especially those displaced and refugees, should receive humanitarian aid, and we hope all countries will assist. And we, too, in our own -- for our own part have made some contributions as best we could.

SHEERAN: And, Mr. President, moving to the subject of Afghanistan, as international troops get ready to leave next year, the question from our audience is, how do we prevent the relapse to extremist control? Or will there be chaos? What do you think Iran's role will be?

ROUHANI (through translator): Afghanistan, for next year, is something that we are concerned about in terms of its peace and stability for various reasons. One reason being the one you just referred to, that the international forces aim to leave Afghanistan, and another reason being that, unfortunately, American -- the U.S. forces intend to say in some basis in Afghanistan. And this could become an excuse for Taliban and other extremist groups to continue resorting to, you know, acts that -- actively insecurity (ph) of that country, because one aspect here that contributes to the activity of these groups is the presence of foreign forces in the region.

And at the same time, in principle, we also cannot find (inaudible) foreign forces in the region. We don't find them useful. We find them detrimental to regional security and peace. And then there's another issue of the negotiations -- the peace negotiations between the government and the Taliban. There's yet another issue, the elections that will happen in Afghanistan next year. We're concerned about this and in general concerned about the potential for instability in Afghanistan, based on the information we receive and about the movement of the -- some, you know, groups there that are against the government.

And one of the first steps that we've taken is to negotiate with the government of Afghanistan and with the governments of surrounding countries and in order to prevent, you know, the potential destabilization as far as we can.

SHEERAN: And, Mr. President, there's a question from David Firestein, the vice president of the East-West Institute, on your thoughts on the prospects for possibly an area of Iran-U.S. cooperation in fighting the narcotrafficking stemming from Afghanistan.

ROUHANI (through translator): The principle of the illicit drugs that flow from Afghanistan is that it poses a serious threat to the entire region, we and the world. And we have been always cooperating with international organizations and regional organizations and the group of countries on this issue to curtail the -- to curtail it.

If a government wants to help, truly there are different ways of helping in this process. The first help comes from inside Afghanistan itself. The governments that can, must inside Afghanistan halt the production of illicit drugs. And therefore, there is no clearer program in this area.

But at the same time, we are, you know -- are in a continual cooperative relationship with the different countries on this issue. And, you know, it's also an internal issue for us. Annually, a group of our border guards has always lose their lives and become martyrs, killed as a result of fighting the phenomenon of the transfer of illicit drugs.

SHEERAN: Mr. President, we've had a question on whether the foreign minister could report on his meeting with Secretary Kerry.

(LAUGHTER)

So if you get tired up here, we could get some relief here with an update. But before we consider your answer to that question, there's two questions about Iran's economy, one from -- regarding your policy for reviving the private sector and curbing (inaudible) hold on business in Iran, and the other more related to the youth unemployment crisis and whether this is a big part of the motivation in seeking a rolling back of the economic sanctions. How is the economy doing?

ROUHANI (through translator): In the economic field, we have actually drafted plans, a series of plans. One is a short-term plan which is called 100-day plan. It's been sort of labeled as such. And the government has actually been able to pass 25 mini-plans (ph) within this category, entrusting various bodies of the government to take every step to basically operationalize the plan. In terms, it is a plan that basically aims to -- well, there is also -- you know, plans for providing more facilities in the customs area, in banking system, because some of our economic problems result from the interaction between the various sectors in the country.

So we're trying to smooth that and facilitate those interactions. We also have another plan that is underway, being planned currently for next year, based on a budget that will be presented to the Islamic Consultative Assembly, and then we have a long-term four-year plan, which our economic group is also working on currently.

One of our plans in principle is to build an environment that is more friendly to the private sector, that it basically triggers business, that eliminated the extra, whether it is the extras that are in the way that prevent the smooth facilitation (ph) of business, whether in forms of protocols or laws or whatnot, or administrative hurdles. And the effort is really to delegate what can be delegated to the private sector from the public sector, so that -- and also to create a function for the government to be -- assist the private sector.

One of the problems we currently have is the debt that the government has to the private sector, so we're trying to plan how the government can pay that debt to the private sector, especially to contractors who -- who have carried out their duties, but have not received funds from the government, that face many serious hurdles as a result.

So to sum up my response, I think that when it comes -- we're taking every step we can for revitalizing the economy and for generating employment for the youth. And we have two specific plans for these that we have been declared and we're in the process of operationalizing them, and then there will be a longer-term plan that we will announce in the next couple of months.

SHEERAN: (OFF-MIKE) Mr. President, there's a related question, really, dealing with the environmental challenges inside Iran. Certainly, many countries are dealing with environmental challenges, and specifically a question about the depletion of water bodies and what your plans are to deal with that and the pressures on the water shortages.

ROUHANI (through translator): On the question of the environment, as well as water, which after all is our major predicament, we have multiple plans. There are several very critical issues. One is regarding the Urmia Lake, which is almost drying up, which can be very dangerous, so we have to quickly find a solution for that. The other is basically the dust that is carried from neighboring countries into the Iranian environment and airspace and land, territorial space, carrying some of the -- part of it is the result of the war, the occupation, and, you know, there are particles that come in that cause environmental problems for Iran.

And in principle, we also have, you know, water shortages that -- and for that, there are different plans that are being architected, but we have two immediate solutions, meaning immediate that we made decisions about it immediately, but it will take time to enforce. One is regarding the border water flows that come into Iran from other countries or vice versa, and, you know, with the proper dam policy, we can actually garner the energy from these sources. And the other one is basically a need for more scientific engagement on the issue of water policy to address the shortages that we face.

SHEERAN: Well, thank you, Mr. President. I think we're getting down to our last questions here. And I'm just going to fold this one into the last answer, because this comes from Ambassador Robert Hunter, and he wants to know if Iran would consider pursuing an incident-at-sea agreement with the United States regarding the Straits of Hormuz.

ROUHANI: Regarding?

SHEERAN: The Straits of Hormuz.

ROUHANI (through translator): When it comes to the Strait of Hormuz, it's important for us to see its security preserved. We want to preserve it. Now, the forces in the region nationally have interactions with one another over the strait. This doesn't mean political interactions. They're just forces in the region, the military forces that need to have a level of coordination. We're sensitive to this issue. The issue -- the Strait of Hormuz is a very critical subject.

And there are no formal connections in this regard, but naturally the foreign forces that are in the region because of the transport issues, the -- you know, the interconnections, there's a natural degree of coordination that must exist anyhow.

SHEERAN: And just a last question. The relationship, obviously, between Iran and the U.S. is not a tabula rasa. There's a lot of contentious history, massive barriers to trust. This is serious business, getting -- you know, building confidence, building trust. It is the responsibility of leaders to be skeptical and to look for proof of the actions and statements.

What would you point to as steps that can happen from Iran's side in building trust? And as you have said, there's been misunderstandings about Iran, could you clear up right now any understandings that you have -- misunderstandings you have seen regarding Iran? What would you like to clear up about the world's view of Iran that you do not feel is accurate and misperceived? So what steps? And what would you like to clear up right now with this audience?

ROUHANI (through translator): In one of these questions, I think I said it's the people who will have to start the hard work. Didn't I say that? Well, there could be some steps that can be taken in this regard, but the very fact that people could, you know, meet each other, exchanges could happen can be very good steps. Academia, universities, think-tanks can all be effective. But the most important issue that can be a proper beginning for the future is the nuclear issue.

If we can settle the nuclear debate, it will most certainly be an important step and a good beginning for a better future, which I hope this future will benefit everyone.

SHEERAN: (OFF-MIKE) thank you very much. You've been very generous with your time. I think we've been able to cover most of the questions that have come in, not only from this room, but throughout the world. I don't know if we can hear a brief update on the meeting?

ROUHANI (through translator): Please. Would you like a chair? Shall I bring a chair here for you?

(APPLAUSE)

ZARIF: Good evening, Mr. President. I had a good meeting with P3-plus-three, or as it's known here, 5-plus-one, very good and substantive meeting. We agreed to jump-start the process so that we could move forward with a view to agree, first, on the parameters of the end game, how we want to proceed Iran's nuclear program in a year's time, and also to think about steps, starting with a first step, that should be implemented in order to address the immediate concerns of two sides, and move towards finalizing it hopefully within a year's time.

I thought I was too ambitious bordering naivete, but I saw that some of my colleagues were even more ambitious and wanted to do it faster, so we could go ahead.

Second thing, Kerry was very positive in that meeting, repeating the views of President Obama on the need to move forward, and he committed to leading the process himself on the American side.

And then we had a short bilateral meeting on the sides, which is not abnormal in -- in these international settings. We always take people aside and have a chat. We had more than a chat. That continued the same logic that Secretary Kerry pointed to me, his readiness to lead the discussions to a mutually agreeable solution, and I stated President Rouhani's commitment to move the process forward.

We also touched upon a couple other issues, but very briefly. But that was the gist of our discussion. I'm optimistic. Now we have to match our words with action. And that's, I hope, not a challenge. I hope that would be an opportunity for us to build confidence and move forward, turning challenges into possibilities for a better understanding and movement forward.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

SHEERAN: Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister (OFF-MIKE) last word. So now you've heard the report. Is this the kind of window of opportunity you were looking for, the first such meeting of this kind in 35 years? What do you take from the process?

ROUHANI (through translator): Well, you asked for the first step. They took it. You asked for the first step. They took it.

SHEERAN: (OFF-MIKE) quick action following? Excellent. Thank you, Mr. President, on behalf of all of us.

(APPLAUSE)

ROUHANI: Thank you so much.

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