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CNN: SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT

Ahmadinejad: Soldier of God

Aired September 30, 2007 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRITIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, CNN SPEICAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: Uncovered stories never heard and images never seen.
(UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE): People are scrambling inside.

AMANPOUR: He wanted to be heard and he was. For the past week attention has been focused on the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He had come to New York for the annual United Nations Meeting of World Leaders. This university lecturer who became mayor of Tehran and then president of Iran is now America's nemesis. What President Bush calls an enemy of freedom. Today Ahmadinejad is controversial, defiant and feared. He first shocked the world when he called the holocaust a myth.

PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (Translator): Whether the holocaust happened or did not, was extensive or limited, unfortunately today it has become an excuse for some to create a basis for constant invaders.

AMANPOUR: When he called for Israel to be wiped off the map at this conference in Tehran two years ago.

The U.S. says Iran provides weapons, training and support for America's enemies in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): We've seen in the last three months a significant improvement in the capability of mortar man and racketeers to provide accurate fires into the green zone and other places. We think this is directly related to training that was conducted in Iran.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: There is now a full-fledged war of words between the presidents of Iran and the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We see the struggle in Iran. We're where a reactionary regime subrogates its proud people, arrests free trade union leaders and uses Iran's resources to fund the spread of terror and pursue nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: It's Iran's nuclear ambitions that most worry President Bush and other world leaders. Earlier this year, I was one of a group of reporters invited to visit one of Iran's nuclear facilities. The Iranian government is saying that this is a transparency visit designed to show the world what it claims to be its peaceful nuclear program.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALI ASHGAR SOLTIANIEH, CHIEF IRANIAN DELEGATE, IAEA: As you noticed, the whole system is closed system. It means the input --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: This Uranium conversion faculty is not the current show piece in Iran's nuclear program. That is about an hour away from here where Iran has already conducted some experimental uranium enrichment. President Bush and other leaders have mounted a campaign of centre and sanctions to get Iran to scale back its nuclear program, to stop uranium enrichment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I am hopeful that we can convince the Iranian regime to give up any ambitions it has in developing a weapons program and do so peacefully.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Despite what the president says, the International Atomic Energy Agency has found no evidence that Iran is weaponizing its nuclear program, but the IAEA does say it has some outstanding questions.

Last Sunday, President Ahmadinejad arrived for his third visit to New York on what seemed to be a calculated pr offensive, which started well before he ever set foot on U.S. soil. In the weeks leading up to his trip, Iran released four Iranian Americans, three who had been imprisoned and a fourth whose passport had been confiscated. And Ahmadinejad asked to visit ground zero to pay his respects to the victims of 9-11. His request was turned down and loudly condemned.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): His coming down here would be taking our sorrow, our sadness and taking our faces and grinding it into the mud.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AHMADINEJAD (Translator): Regretfully some groups had very strong reactions, very bad reactions. To prevent someone from showing sympathy to the families of the victims of the September 11th tragic event is wrong. Somebody told me this is an insult. I said what are you saying? This is my way of showing respect. Why would you think that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: That's President Ahmadinejad last week at Columbia University. That visit also caused controversy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNIDENTIFED FEMALE): Although I hold free speech to be important principles, I feel that by having him on our campus the school is legitimizing him and endorse his views in the eyes of the world. He is a known sponsor of terrorism. He wants to destroy another sovereign nation and has many human rights violations, and I don't believe the school should be endorsing that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Feeling the heat, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger gave his guest a harsh welcome.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEE BOLLINGER, PRESIDENT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator, and so I ask you -- [applause]

And so I ask you, why have women, members of the Bahai Faith, homosexuals and so many of our academic colleagues become targets of persecution in your country?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: But the Iranian president was not daunted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AHMADINEJAD (Translator): In Iran, traditional requires that when we invite a person to be a speaker, we actually respect our students and the professors by allowing them to make their own judgment. And we don't think it's necessary before the speech is even given to come in with a series of claims. And to attempt in a so-called manner to vaccinate to sort to our students and our faculty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: In his speech at Columbia, Ahmadinejad was only slightly less dismissive of the holocaust than he has been in the past.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AHMADINEJAD (Translator): If given that the holocaust is a present reality of our time, history that occurred, why is there not sufficient research that can approach the topic from different perspectives?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: And he explained his controversial stance on Israel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AHMADINEJAD (Translator): We must allow Jewish Palestinians, Muslim Palestinians and Christian Palestinians to determine their own faith themselves through a free referendum.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Still, President Ahmadinejad astonished his audience when he said there are no homosexuals in Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AHMADINEJAD (Translator): In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country. We don't have that in our country. In Iran, we don't have this phenomenon. I don't know who has told you that we have it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: One day after speaking at Columbia University came the main event, his address to the United Nations General Assembly, but most observers say he missed an opportunity to ease mounting tensions with the United States. Again, refusing to suspend Iran's nuclear program and launching a broad side against America's human rights record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AHMADINEJAD (Translator): Unfortunately, human rights are being extensively violated by certain powers, especially by those who pretend to be their exclusive advocates, setting up secret prisons, abducting persons, trials and secret punishments without any regard to due process. Extensive tapping of telephone conversations, intercepting private mail and frequent summons to police and security centers have become commonplace and prevalent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: The tension between the United States and Iran goes back nearly 30 years, back to when I was growing up in Tehran. I've been going back ever since to report on this complicated country which has been so at odds with the United States for so many years.

When we return, the Islamic revolution where it all began.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: It's the holiest time of year for Shiite Muslims. On the streets of Tehran, grown men and women weep and pray. The city stops dead in its tracks from the main streets to the bazaars as people across Iran relive the great religious dramas of their faith. This is where America first tasted Islamic fundamentalism when Islamic revolutionary students stormed the embassy and took American diplomats hostage for 444 days. This set off a wave of Islamic fundamentalism throughout the Muslim world. What were the Iranians reacting against?

KAREN ARMSTRONG, RELIGIOUS HISTORIAN: The Iranians were reacting against decades of western interference. You can see this as Iran's declaration of independence.

AMANPOUR: The ruler of Iran, the Shah, had been restored to power in the 1950s in a CIA coup. He was rushing to modernize his country like his father before him.

ARMSTRONG: The Shahs in Iran used to make their soldiers go out with the bayonets at the ready, ripping off the women's veils and tearing them to pieces in front of them in the streets.

AMANPOUR: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ruthliously (ph) crushed decent, and exiled those who challenged him. The most prominent, a fire-brand cleric named Ayatollah Formanie (ph) blasted back calling the Shah the enemy of Islam.

ARMSTRONG: People would go out into the streets by pointing out the injustice of the rules.

AMANPOUR: With Iran's constitution in one hand and the Koran in the other, Formanie (ph) offered up Islam as the antidote to corruption and western dominance of Iran.

ARMSTRONG: I think many of the Iranians thought of it as a purifying ritual. They were able to speak to Shiite traditions, not to Marxism or secularist ideals that had no grassroots among the people.

AMANPOUR: With the Formanie's (ph) revolution came the world's first modern theocracy, a fundamentalist Islamic Republic that stood up to the United States and humiliated a superpower.

DR. MASSOUMEH EBTEKAR, TEHRAN CITY COUNCILWOMAN: We felt very strongly for the independence of our country. We felt very strongly for the dignity of the Iranian people. We felt very strongly about the intervention of the American government in our affairs.

AMANPOUR: Massoumeh Ebtekar would eventually become Iran's first female vice president, pushing for more democracy, but back in 1979, she was the voice of the revolution.

(UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE): These people are spies working in the United States embassy.

EBTEKAR: We were not terrorists. We were not militia. We had no training, no military training. They knew they had to take some sort of unconventional step.

AMANPOUR: Unprecedented in the history of the globe. That unprecedented act was the take over of the American embassy in the heart of Tehran. The relationship between Iran and the United States has never recovered.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Night after night during the holy week, religious drama lights up the somber streets and neighborhoods of Iran. Shiite believers raise the battle standards of their greatest hero the martyr of all martyrs, Imman Hussein. Faith, they say, bears a lot this massive weight.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): It's not our biceps. It's our belief that gives us our strength. That and our love for Immam Hussein. AMANPOUR: To understand just how much they love Immam Hussein who was the prophet's Mahmoud's grandson, spend some time at these rituals. The Shiites, about 1/10 of all Muslims, his story represents the internal battle against repression and injustice and the willingness to sacrifice even one's own life for that struggle. Which is what Immam Hussein did in 680 ad in a fight over who would succeed the prophet Mahmoud, Hussein and his entire family was slaughtered in a heroic last stand that would lead to the bloody Shiite-Sunni rift that continues to this day. This passion play is performed by an amateur troop of bakers and builders and is directed by a bus driver.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): When I see this play my heartbreaks and I cry. Because Imam Hussein answered so many of my prayers.

AMANPOUR: This is a very emotional play. What is the reaction from the crowd?

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): The people watching are also talking to god. As they shed their tears, they confide their troubles and ask for help with their lives.

AMANPOUR: The story may have happened 1400 years ago, but emotions resurface as raw as if it were just yesterday. I sat in the women's section of the audience next to Nassrim (ph).

NASSRIM (ph) (Translator): I love Imam Hussein. I would love to have him visit my home. One day I was penniless and I didn't know what to do. After praying to Imam Hussein I found 50,000 ryhas in my drawer. I have seen many such miracles.

AMANPOUR: Nassrim (ph) and the other women can watch, but they can't be on stage.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): That's because Islam bars women from speaking publicly when young men are present.

AMANPOUR: But in the stories, there were women when his family were killed.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): But back then, how shall I say? Young men were purer. Now we have to cast them to play the roles of women.

AMANPOUR: For instance, this mustache young maiden. The drama though is not diminished it's more than a thousand years ago since this happened. Is it relevant to Iran today?

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): For us, it's still important. Just like it was during the Iran-Iraq war when they didn't hesitate to be martyrs.

AMANPOUR: Iran's eight-year war with Iraq is seen here as a triumph of faith. In 1980, Iraq's President Saddam Hussein invaded Iran. Hussein was supported by the Soviet Union and the United States. They saw him as a bull work against the spread of Iranian style Islamic revolution. The world assumed that Iraq's professional army would score a quick victory, but nobody reckoned with Ayatollah Khamenei's holy warriors. Waves of young boys who volunteered to become martyrs, clearing mine fields by running across them. Nobody had ever seen anything like it. Eight blood-soaked years later, hundreds of thousands of young men and boys have been injured or killed, inspired to fight on by their first martyr Imam Hussein. Back then, he was one of Khamenei's holy warriors. Tonight as he prepares free food for the ashorer (ph) crowds in Tehran he tells us how he volunteered to fight when he was barely a teenager. Seen here on a hill top during the battle.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): I was 13 when I went to the front.

AMANPOUR: You went to the war? At 13 years old? How did they allow you to go at 13?

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): I did whatever I could. In the beginning I was trained to defuse land mines. When I was battle hardened, I ran messages on foot.

AMANPOUR: Did you think of Imam Hussein when you were at the front?

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): He was my example. His courage inspired me. You can never praise him enough.

AMANPOUR: When the west looks at this and looks at the ritual, they see chest beating; they see back beating with chains. What message do you want the west to have about your religion, about your rituals?

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): When we beat ourselves with iron chains and damage our bodies, we want to show that we will stand with our Imam and our religion until the bitter end. For the Shiites, his sacrifice has kept Islam alive for 1400 years.

AMANPOUR: And is alive today, not only in Amir's heart, but in his household. He's brought me to meet his family.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): This is my son and this is Ali.

AMANPOUR: Amir's two little boys are named after his two brothers who were killed in the war with Iraq, dying to defend their country. More than 20 years later, his mother doesn't regret the family's sacrifice. You are a mother and you sent your 13-year-old son to the front. You lost already two sons. How could you have done that?

KOBRA FAJHAR, (Translator): I never wept for my sons when they went to war. In fact, I was happy. I would have been angry if they refused to go.

AMANPOUR: Is religion that important in your life?

FAJAHR (Translator): During the war, one of Imam's disciples was decapitated and his head was thrown at his mother. She flung it back defiantly saying whatever I give to god, I don't want back. That's how important Islam is for us.

AMANPOUR: From the Holy City, a grand Ayatollah tells us that martyrdom for your faith should never be confused with suicide terrorism. The western world, when they think of Muslims, they think of terrorists. So what is your answer to those people who say that they are god's warriors, they are god's soldiers? That they kill in the name of god?

GRAND AYATOLLAH SAANEI (Translator): I've always said that terrorists should go to hell and that is our belief, but if the enemy attacks us, we have the right to defend ourselves in any possible way.

AMANPOUR: Which is what Abdohadr (ph) did. Like his friend Amir, he was also a team defending his country.

Do you really wish that you could have been martyrs?

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): Yes. Martyrdom was my biggest wish, but for me it just wasn't meant to be.

AMANPOUR: Everybody understands if your country is attacked, you'll defend it. I think what many people don't understand is this love of martyrdom that exists in Islam. Why is it so important to die?

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE) (Translator): We love martyrdom because it brings us to heaven and because we'll be helped on the Day of Judgment.

AMANPOUR: Are you ready to fight again if you have to?

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE) (Translator): The true believers are still here. We don't ask for war, but if the enemy attacks, all Iranians from children to old men are ready to fight.

AMANPOUR: Tonight, Davoud sings in honor of Ahmad Hussein's martyrdom.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): When we beat our chests, we feel light. We share the sufferings of Imam Hussein and tell the world that he is our master.

AMANPOUR: When we return, Iran's controversial leader. Why does he believe he's on a mission from god?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TONY HARRIS, CNN, ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Tony Harris with a quick check of the headlines. Check your refrigerator. The Topps Meat Company has recalled more than 21 million pounds of ground beef. The meat could be contaminated with E. coli. Affected packages have a sell-by date or best if used by-date between September 25th, 2007 and September 25th, 2008.

Her name is Madison. She is safe. She is sound. It is the best-case scenario police were hoping for since the videotape emerged showing her being sexually assaulted. It turns out that the video was several years old. A Nevada man 37-year-old Chester Arthur Stiles has been identified as a suspect.

Prison lockdown. A federal penitentiary near Jackson, Mississippi is closed up and sealed up after a behind-bars brawl between groups of inmates. Several people are reported hurt. Prison authorities aren't saying much about it yet. The facility in Yazoo City houses about 1,500 inmates.

Myanmar melting down but witnesses described the city streets as quieter. A senior U.N. diplomat arrived there today hoping to engage Myanmar's military leaders and talks to end the worsening streak of public tension and violence. Armed security forces have forcefully put down a wave of pro democracy marches and demonstrations.

Newt Gingrich gave it some thought but says he is not going to run for president in 2008. A Gingrich spokesman says the former Republican house speaker realized he can't form an exploratory committee to run for president and run his political action committee at the same time.

Iran's parliament condemned the CIA and U.S. Army as terrorist organizations. Iran points to U.S. behavior at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The allegations appear to be retaliations for U.S. congressional resolution, which calls for designating Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group. Those are the headlines this hour. CNN, the most trusted name in news.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Once again, the drumbeat of discord is rising between a resurgent Iran and a worried west.

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES: The Iranian regime sponsors terrorists and has advocated the destruction of our ally Israel.

AMANPOUR: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president openly defies worldwide pressure to suspend his country's nuclear program and he alarms the west with his frequent diatribes against Israel and the United States.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN'S PRESIDENT (through translator): The leaders of America want to resolve issues worldwide using force, arms and bombs.

AMANPOUR: And when he first addressed the United Nations, Iran's fundamentalist president seemed to see himself as a man on a divine mission.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN'S PRESIDENT (through translator): Oh mighty lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one.

AMANPOUR: Upon his return to Iran, he told an Ayatollah that he had mesmerized his audience.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN'S PRESIDENT (though translator): One of our people said when I praise god the almighty, he saw a light around me and I was placed inside an aura until the end of my speech, and for 27 minutes, the leaders of the world didn't blink. I'm not exaggerating because I was looking at them and they were transfixed as if a hand was holding them.

AMANPOUR: Ahmadinejad now disavows that tape and claims it's a media concoction, but he has reportedly made his entire cabinet take an oath of allegiance to the hidden imam, a ninth century Shiite cleric who is a direct descendant of the prophet Mohammed. He is meant to come back one day as a Shia messiah. President Ahmadinejad repeatedly says his government must hasten that day. To find out more about the mysterious hidden imam, I traveled to the holy city of (ph) Iran's center of religious power. Before going in to interview some of these conservative clerics, I've been warned to make sure that I wore the strictly traditional headscarf, head covering. So I'm now going to remove the one I traditionally have to wear here and I'm going to add here in the car, quickly, put this very tight fitting covering over my head. I can't do it. So I went to this Islamic dress shop for some professional advice. This lady is helping me because it's actually rather difficult to organize. There is an elastic band around the back of my head holding all this in place. Can you believe these women have to do this every day? By the time I was deemed sufficiently covered, the head of the Bright Future Institute studying the hidden imam wouldn't look at me anyway, nor would he shake my hand because I'm a woman. My name is Christiane Amanpour from CNN. And we've come to find out about the Bright Future and how you see it.

H.J. ALI LARI, THE BRIGHT FUTURE INSTITUTE (through translator): You are welcome here and we are at your disposal.

AMANPOUR: I discovered that the hidden imam mysteriously disappeared centuries ago and that god has kept him alive since then so that he can return one day and usher in a new era of peace and Islamic justice. This center is waiting to welcome him and it's abuzz with activity. Clerics pour over religious text and people even call in to ask exactly when the hidden imam is coming back. Phone's ringing. Right now clerics tell me the imam is hiding like the sun on a cloudy day. That's the message they're sending even to children all over the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to go to a far away land and I want us to go on the journey together to ride on the clouds and go to the land of dreams, the land of wishes, to the end of the world.

AMANPOUR: What are the conditions? What has there to be in the world for the hidden imam to come?

H.J. ABDOLLAH REZAIE, THE BRIGHT FUTURE INSTITUTE (through translator): All the world's ideologies will falter. Communism came and went and liberal democracy will also fail. And when nobody can provide a solution, that's when the hidden imam will appear saying, I'm the answer, and he'll save the world.

AMANPOUR: If Christians and Jews don't follow the hidden imam, clerics say there will be trouble.

REZAIE (through translator): If the Judaism and Christianity don't recognize him, conflicts are possible. So god will send Jesus to mediate. AMANPOUR: And he says Jesus will tell the whole world to follow the hidden imam. But until that day, thousands of pilgrims come here (ph) the shrine of the hidden imam. They drop their petition into the well of requests. And it was none other than President Ahmadinejad who ordered the shrine to be refurbished. He believes the day of judgment is near and that sustains him as he confronts the west.

When we return, meet the women of Iran. How do they fit into the fundamentalists' dream?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Far from Iran's capital in this rural area, Rafat Bayat is doing what politicians do, meeting her constituents. How many women MPs are there? Bayat is one of 13 women in the Majlis parliament of Iran's Islamic Republic. 13 out of 209, but she is a fundamentalist with unusual credentials. I understand that you studied in the United States.

RAFAT BAYAT, MEMBER OF THE MAJLIS PARLIAMENT: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Where did you study?

BAYAT: Texas.

AMANPOUR: Texas? Were you veiled when you were in America?

BAYAT: Yes. Do you have a problem with me now?

AMANPOUR: I might not have a problem with you, but Americans certainly when they see a women dressed completely like this, they say, well clearly women don't have rights. What rights do women have under the Islamic Republic of Iran?

BAYAT (through translator): Every right a woman needs to lead a good life -- in her job, her home life, her education. In fact, 65% of our university students are women.

AMANPOUR: Do you say that under the Islamic Republic, women have all the rights they want, and yet in court, a girl who is accused of adultery, whether she's been raped or whatever, can get stoned to death?

BAYAT (through translator): You always pick isolated cases and blow them out of proportion. We probably have less rates of (ph) than anywhere in the world but stoning for adultery is part of Islamic law.

AMANPOUR: I can't imagine any religion that would say it's all right to stone a young girl to death, no matter what she's done.

BAYAT (through translator): We've only had three to four cases of stoning in the past 28 years.

AMANPOUR: Do you not think it's violent to stone a woman to death? BAYAT (through translator): If Islamic law mandates a specific punishment to stamp out a specific vice, I will defend it, even if the whole world is against it. Understand?

AMANPOUR: But recently, Iran's highest court exonerated religious vigilantes who had killed five people in the name of moral purity, including one couple just for walking together in public.

KAREN ARMSTRONG, RELIGIOUS HISTORIAN: It's important to say that none of the great world religions has been good for women. Not a single one of them.

AMANPOUR: Religious historian, Karen Armstrong says that Islam's prophet Muhammad was ahead of his time when it came to women.

ARMSTRONG: The Koran gives women rights of inheritance and divorce that western women would not receive until the 19th century. There is nothing in the Koran about all women having to be veiled or secluded in a certain part of the house. That came in later.

AMANPOUR: In 2003, lawyer, Shirin Ebadi won a Nobel Peace prize for fighting to restore the rights of Iranian women. She had been Iran's first female judge but when the ayatollahs came to power, they tossed her off the bench.

SHIRIN EBADI, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER (through translator): I have been a judge and lawyer for 35 years. I teach law at the university and I won the Nobel Peace prize, but the courts here will not admit my testimony unless it's backed by another woman, but the man who cleans my office can testify on his own even though he's illiterate.

AMANPOUR: That's because here in Islamic courts, a woman's testimony and even her life are worth exactly half that of a man's. Is there is a push back of the limited rights that women have?

EBADI (through translator): Yes, of course. 65% of our university students are girls, but now officials want to reduce that to 50%. It's a regressive step.

AMANPOUR: In a fundamentalist society, can there be women's rights?

EBADI (through translator): Women and men can enjoy equal rights, only with a modern interpretation of Islam. Fundamentalism promotes a male-dominated culture.

AMANPOUR: And this is the product of that culture, the numbing reality of a woman's every day life, according to Iranian photographer, Shadi Ghadirian. What are you trying to say with this? What's the message? To me, it looks like women have a boring life. All they do is make tea, iron clothes, brush the floor and cook.

SHADI GHADIRIAN, PHOTOGRAPHER: You know, it's somehow an objection that to the women that always they repeat these things every day and they don't think about it. They are like machine.

AMANPOUR: They're like machines. Shadi Ghadirian has grown up in Iran. She knows the intricate art of self-censorship.

How do you censor yourself?

GHADIRIAN: For example, my women in my photos should have veils in my photos. Like in cinema, if you notice, women when they want to go to bed, they have a husband there, you know. If we want to show our photos, we should do these things.

AMANPOUR: Because if they don't, government sensors will do it for them.

This is how it appears in the books in the university?

GHADIRIAN: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Classic pictures of arts that are censored.

GHADIRIAN: And imagine, we studied art.

AMANPOUR: Is the biggest problem for women like you the veil?

GHADIRIAN: No. I have many, many more serious problems. I think for our Islamic laws.

AMANPOUR: So the laws are the big problem?

GHADIRIAN: Yes, yes.

AMANPOUR: Something even conservative parliamentarian Rafat Bayat discovered when she tried to run for Iran's highest political highest office. Mrs. Bayat, you put your name forward to be candidate for president. What was the answer?

RAFAT BAYAT (through translator): I was told that I didn't have enough executive experience, but there was another thorny issue, the ambiguous wording in our constitution that currently says only important men of politics can become president.

AMANPOUR: The clerics blocked her candidacy, but she wants to change the law. Can Iran have a woman president?

BAYAT (through translator): I think. I hope.

AMANPOUR: Women keep pushing the boundaries here, but now President Ahmadinejad's enforcers are trying to stop them. In a new Tehran- style spring cleaning, thousands of women have been detained for dressing un-Islamicly, like this woman screaming as she is pushed onto a police car, according to the bystander who captured it on his cell phone. Many women in Iran are refusing to go quietly.

GHADIRIAN (through translator): If they try to turn the clock back, they will set off an explosion.

AMANPOUR: Coming up, a conversation with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: He may be defiant.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): You want the answer the way you want to hear it. Well, this isn't really a free flow of information.

AMANPOUR: But Iran's president can also dodge questions with the best of them.

AMANPOUR: Good afternoon, Mr. President, how are you? Last week in New York, President Ahmadinejad agreed to sit down with me and talk, but at the last minute, he allowed only two questions.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Because I'm really busy.

AMANPOUR: I asked him about his rocky reception in New York. He saw it as a success.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I think through the meetings I've had at the United Nations as well as the meeting at Columbia University, we did a lot of important work in helping increase the ability of people to listen together towards peace, towards justice, towards compassion and towards brotherhood around the around the world.

AMANPOUR: I also asked about charges that Iran is training and funding militias inside Iraq. His answer was evasive.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): They are free, those politicians, to say what they want to say. But the reality and the truth of the matter is moving in another direction. So we really don't delve into the details of what American politicians hear, say or think. Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you one more question about your nuclear program? At that point as I was trying to ask about Iran's nuclear program, Mr. Ahmadinejad declared the interview over. But two years ago, again in New York at the U.N., President Ahmadinejad had granted me his first- ever interview and that's where he also first revealed his country's nuclear ambitions.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): The first point is stressing the right of the Islamic Republic of Iran to pursue and have the nuclear cycle. We are against nuclear apartheid, which means some have the right to possess it, use the fuel, and then sell it to another country for ten times its value. We are against that. We say free energy is the right of all countries.

AMANPOUR: You are determined to proceed.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Certainly, we are determined. Why should other people have it and sell it to us? We will make it and sell it to them.

AMANPOUR: So, are you saying that you are determined to pursue enrichment? AHMADINEJAD (through translator): This is the right of our country.

AMANPOUR: But we are talking about words now. Are you determined to pursue enrichment? You said it's your right. I want to know whether that is your policy?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): The use of such cycle, the use of nuclear cycle for civilian peaceful purposes is the right of our country and our country will pursue it.

AMANPOUR: And yet there are rules. There are international rules. If you can make your own fuel, then you can make your own bomb. Are you prepared to have an outside country supply the fuel and monitor your activities?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): We've announced many times that because of our religious views and our cultural views, we are against the creation and/or use of nuclear weaponry. We are a country that moves according to our religious laws.

AMANPOUR: You know, in your campaign when you ran for president, you talked about increasing economic opportunities for the poor, for the lower middle class in Iran. You talked about making their lives better. How can you do that if Iran is going to be isolated? Surely that depends on Iran being integrated with the world.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): You see what I said during the presidential elections is what I said generally. Everything that we talk about is in order to keep what is at the heart of our national interests; we need to keep those at the forefront. One of the slogans during the presidential elections for my campaign was that we will have access to the nuclear supply process.

AMANPOUR: So, is nuclear supply more important than having your country improve its economic situation and having people have a better life? I mean, are you really ready to have a real confrontation with the world over this?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): No, we don't want to be at war with the world. I explained to you, see, they're trying to impose their will on our country, and I'm confident that we will reach both. I have no worries about it. We will have peace, prosperity and the nuclear supply cycle.

AMANPOUR: That was two years ago. And while the temperature of the rhetoric is rising over Iran's nuclear ambitions, President Ahmadinejad says he doesn't believe the issue can or will be resolved by war. And the Bush administration says it continues to seek a diplomatic solution.

I'm Christiane Amanpour, thank you for joining us.

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