Editor’s Note: What follows is a full transcript of Christiane Amanpour’s exclusive interview with the speaker of Iran’s Parliament, Ali Larijani.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Dr. Larijani, welcome to the program. Thanks for joining us from New York today.
ALI LARIJANI, SPEAKER OF IRAN’S PARLIAMENT: (Speaking foreign language).
LARIJANI (through translator): OK, it’s good to be here. I’m ready to answer your questions.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Larijani, can you tell me, as speaker of the Iranian parliament and a former chief nuclear negotiator, do you support this deal that has been reached with the United States and other world powers?
LARIJANI (through translator): Of course I have explained about this before. But in general, I think this is an acceptable agreement. There might be some shortcomings in it, but overall I think it’s a good deal.
AMANPOUR: So do you believe that your parliament will approve it, even though it’s just a small committee?
And when will Iran’s supreme national Security Council deliver its view on this deal?
LARIJANI (through translator): They have already started discussing about the deal in both the parliament and the supreme national security council. There are different voices being heard in the parliament. There are some people who believe that the deal has its own problems and shortcomings.
And some believe that these problems are major ones. But anyway, we have to wait and see what happens.
Of course, there are other people who agree with the deal in the parliament, in its totality. But those who are opposed to it are actually raising some concerns about particular components inside the deal.
As I said, we have to give them time to raise their voice and to discuss it.
AMANPOUR: Do you believe it will be accepted by Iran’s institutions?
The Supreme Leader has not yet said whether he fully backs it or not; he’s praised the negotiators but will it be accepted by Iran and the institutions?
LARIJANI (through translator): I cannot tell you for sure now; I cannot have a clear judgment whether it will be approved or not. We have to look into the positives and the negatives of the deal. But I can tell you that the parliament will pass its judgment in a month. And by that time, we will have come to an assessment.
AMANPOUR: Well, that time is around about the time that the U.S. parliament, the U.S. Congress, will also come to its judgment.
What is your view of the incredibly divisive debate inside the United States on this deal?
LARIJANI (through translator): Yes, I’ve heard about those hot debates going on in the U.S. Congress. And I believe that there are some people over there who are exaggerating things and they are saying things like the deal is hugely in favor of Iran. And because of all these exaggerations now, there is this joke going on between the Iranian politicians – the Iranian politicians are saying that it is like drinking water from a firefighter’s hose.
But anyway, I should tell you that the Americans continued to bully us even during the negotiations. But ultimately – and thank God, the Islamic Republic of Iran managed to fulfil some of its demands and to put several things in the deal which are in our favor.
AMANPOUR: But sitting in New York now and looking at the news analysis and the reports of the votes that President Obama is accumulating inside the Congress, do you believe the U.S. Congress will support, approve this deal?
LARIJANI (through translator): Of course, I’m only familiar with certain number of analyses offered by U.S. politicians. But I think this deal is a more realistic solution because the Americans adopted a different path in the past regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, which was based more on bullying or intimidation. And of course sanctions.
But it proved to be very ineffective and that’s why the Americans chose another way and that was negotiations. And I think this path that they chose is a more realistic one. And it is a beginning for a better understanding for other issues as well. I mean, the regional and international issues. And I think because there was not such a proper understanding in the past, there were some challenges between us.
But I think this agreement can be a beginning for a better understanding on different issues.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask that, because there’s been a lot of talk about whether this could be the beginning of a broader cooperation.
Do you see it as that?
Is this going to be the beginning of, let’s say, changes in Iran working with the United States or Iran policy, for instance, towards Syria and other such really important issues right now?
LARIJANI (through translator): I think we should not rush to any kind of conclusion or judgment. This all depends on the attitude and the behavior of the U.S., especially when it comes to the region or international issues.
If they choose to adopt a realistic attitude or approach vis-à-vis Iran and if the U.S. abandons this bullying, then it can positively impact our relationship with it.
AMANPOUR: You speak fairly positively. Yet the head of the Revolutionary Guard has today called the United States still the Great Satan, despite this deal.
Do you believe that?
Is the United States still the Great Satan for Iran?
LARIJANI (through translator): You know, we have to somehow look at the past and see why some people are using that title for the U.S. You know, it was the U.S. – I mean, the former president of the U.S. that started different wars in my region, which resulted in huge damages, like the war in Afghanistan or in Iraq or even the 33-day war in Lebanon, which was waged by Israel.
Now we know that it was the U.S. that was supporting Israel in that war and – or even in the war, between Iran and Iraq, new documents have been released which show that it was the U.S. that encouraged Saddam Hussein to attack Iran.
So I just wanted to remind that it is because of such actions that people in Iran are using those terms or are pessimistic about the relationship between Iran and the U.S. And as I said, if the U.S. chooses to adopt a more realistic approach and attitude towards Iran, then those habits and those terms will naturally change.
AMANPOUR: Well, then, let me ask you this, because Syria is obviously a massive crisis right now. Many, many people say that if it wasn’t for Iran’s military support to the Assad regime, along with Hezbollah, that this war would have been over a long time ago.
Iran now promises to deliver a peace plan to end the war.
When will we see it?
LARIJANI (through translator): I think the regional issues are relatively complicated and you have to look at them in a much deeper way; if not for Iranian help in Syria, the terrorists would have advanced even further. And you should have no doubt that Syria would end up in a situation that was much worse than the situation in Libya. And because of that situation, all the neighbors of Syria would be at loss. And the crisis there would have become much bigger.
And you should know that the warmongering policies pursued in Syria resulted in the emergence and creation of daish or ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra, which are both very extremist and radical groups. And – but Iran, on the other hand, always had a very deep, thorough and strategic understanding and a policy regarding the region.
And you know, that we rushed to the help of Iraqis when they were attacked by ISIS. You know, you have to look at this situation in a much broader sense. Since 2001 and the occupation of Afghanistan, the terrorism has been on the rise steadily in any country that was occupied in my region.
You can see the seeds of terrorism spreading everywhere. And we – it is our assessment that terrorism has been growing both in terms of quantity or quality. Now they have lots of arms and weapons. They have lands of their own.
So the question is, do they really want the Middle East to be a boiling pot?
Or do they want to control and manage the extremists?
I believe that Iran and Hezbollah acted very responsibly; we were the ones who helped the Iraqis; if not for us, nobody knows what could have happened to that country.
And let me tell you about Syria, that, from the very beginning, we always said that the Syrian crisis needs a political solution. There were some countries who were opposed to this idea. But now they have wised up; we see that there are now more people in my region who say that they want a political solution to the Syrian problem.
Now we are ready to contribute to such a solution, a solution that is based on democracy and a national reconciliation government, in which even the minorities have rights. But I think we need to do more about this so that this mechanism will become operational in that country.
AMANPOUR: Can you tell us – we’re hearing news that Russia is sending its own pilots and its own fighter jets to Syria to launch attacks against ISIS and other terrorist groups there.
What do you know about that, and what can you tell us about that?
LARIJANI (through translator): I have no information about that. But I can tell you with utmost certainty that Russia is one of those countries that is very worried about the rise of terrorism in the region.
AMANPOUR: Dr. Larijani, how quickly do you expect sanctions to be lifted against Iran?
And can you understand the very serious concerns that people in the United States, legislators in the United States and governments across the region in the Middle East?
They are very worried that if so much more money pours into Iran it will be used to fund the kinds of operations that they all find very, very threatening.
LARIJANI (through translator): I believe that there is a number of neighbors, Iran neighbors, that have their own internal problems and they are trying to hide those problems behind the kind of Iranophobia.
Let me ask you a question; in the last 200 years, has Iran invaded another country?
Have we invaded or attacked an Arab country?
But actually, it was Iran that was attacked by an Arab country. I mean, by Iraq and by Saddam Hussein. And when it happened, many Arab countries supported Saddam Hussein. But let me tell you that Iran does not have any intention to attack any other country.
If they want to have a lasting security and tranquility in the region, why don’t they try to engage with Iran in a kind of relationship which is based on sound economic security and political ties?
If they really want to have a lasting security and political stability, they have to enter a kind of cooperation with Iran. And let me tell you that this is Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategy, to have cooperation, coordination and collaboration with its neighbors.
And as I said, some of these Arab countries in my region have their own internal problems or they have problems with each other. And they’re trying to hide them behind Iranophobia.
AMANPOUR: Let me turn to Israel and also to American Jews because there is a very strong opposition in Israel and deep divisions inside the United States amongst the Jewish community.
Even President Obama called the Iranian government and the Iranian system “anti-Semitic” and committed to Israel’s destruction.
Why is it that you keep – can you say anything that would reassure Israel that you are not committed to the destruction of that country and to quiet down the opposition in those circles?
LARIJANI (through translator): OK. You see what you said or what they say that Iran is anti-Semitic is all wrong. We have – we don’t have any problem with Judaism. We believe that it is a heavenly religion. We have so much respect for the Jews, for the Prophet of God, Moses, peace be upon him, and for his heavenly book, Torah.
We believe that Moses was a great prophet. And you know that there are Jews living in Iran like – a small minority; 20,000 Jews. But they have their own representative in the Iranian parliament. We do try to respect the rights of all religious minorities, like the Christians, Zoroastrians (ph) and the Jews. And they are represented in the Iranian parliament.
We are in no way anti-Semitic. Actually, we respect Jews and Judaism.
But we have problems with Israel because we always ask ourselves questions, why should some people make other people displaced, drive them out of their homes and these people, these Palestinians, these Muslims need to leave their motherland and go in camps, live in other countries, live in poverty.
And then why should we replace them with Jews with other places in the world?
Why so much violence against Muslims in Palestine?
This is a bitter truth of our time. They are forcing a nation out of their homes and replacing them with another one. This is wrong; this is an oppression. And this is not something that we can tolerate.
AMANPOUR: But does that mean – well, let me put it this way.
But is Iran committed, as many people in the United States and Israel believe, to the military destruction of Israel?
LARIJANI (through translator): Everybody worried, especially the Arab country, you know, and because of the expansionist policies of Israel – because they were disrespecting the holy sites which are very close and dear to the hearts of the Muslim, for many years the policies of Israel have made Arabs worried and even now, as we are conducting this interview, you should know that Israel is the only entity in my region that has nuclear weapons. It is the only one that has 200 nuclear warheads.
It is – Israel is constantly fomenting unrest and insecurity in my region. We have information telling us that, even inside Syria, it is collaborating with terrorist groups. So the adventurist attitude and behaviors of Israel in my region has made all Muslim countries worried and has made them hated.
So it has nothing to do with Judaism or the Jews; it is something else. It is about a regime that has launched several wars in my region in recent years, like in Gaza, in Lebanon. And this has made it unacceptable for many countries in my region.
AMANPOUR: Well, can I just get it straight?
Does Iran envision attacking Israel then?
LARIJANI (through translator): OK.
Several years ago, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, came up with a solution for this problem, which I think is totally compatible with democratic principles.
He said that the solution is actually – actually lies in a referendum. There should be a referendum in occupied territories and people – all people – Muslims, Jews and Christians – should participate in that referendum. And they should choose their own destiny.
Whatever they decide should be implemented. And this solution is the one that Iran will adhere to. This is our – in our vision. And I think this is something that is, as I said, compatible with democratic principles.
AMANPOUR: One last question: you have just struck a deal with the United States and other world powers and yet you hold several Americans in prison or in captivity, including our colleague, the journalist, Jason Rezaian.
There is news that recently two people have been jailed for 10 years on espionage charges; there have been no names released.
Is one of those names Jason Rezaian?
Who are the people who have been charged?
Can you tell us that?
LARIJANI (through translator): I don’t have accurate information about his case. You should ask the Iranian judiciary. And you know, the judiciary is independent in Iran.
But we have no interest in keeping people in our prisons. And let’s not forget that there are also many Iranians who are held captive in U.S. prisons on charges, charges which are sometimes very strange and weird to us.
So we should be worried about them, too.
But I agree that we should try so that nobody’s kept in prison for false charges.
AMANPOUR: Your own brother is the head of the Iranian judiciary. And no doubt you will hear a lot about Jason Rezaian while you’re in the United States.
Do you agree that on humanitarian grounds he should be released right now?
He is just a journalist.
LARIJANI (through translator): I told you we don’t want anybody to be kept in prison. And – but on the other hand, I am the speaker of the Iranian parliament. I cannot impose anything from the legislative branch on the judiciary branch.
But I can tell you that justice stands above all other institutions in Iran. And just like in any other parts of the world. But I have to look into his case more thoroughly. But I think more diplomatic efforts are also needed.
AMANPOUR: We hope you do so.
Dr. Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
AMANPOUR: Thank you. Thank you very much.