Iran and the United States have “taken the first steps” toward decreasing enmity by negotiating the nuclear deal announced in July, President Hassan Rouhani told CBS in an interview. But he emphasized that establishing trust between Tehran and Washington would take a long time given decades-long tensions. Rouhani also said there were no plans for him to meet President Barack Obama later in September during the U.N. General Assembly opening in New York. “I think many more steps should be taken in order to reach this stage,” he said in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired on September 20. The following is a partial transcript of the interview from Rouhani’s official website.
Rouhani: It was a very difficult agreement it had a lot of complexities and usually in negotiations where there are seven countries and representatives of seven countries are negotiating on issues which are significant to both parties that the negotiations will finally be successful it is not that much simple but I have never been pessimistic about the success of these negotiations.
Kroft: Opponents have argued that U.S. has given away too much for very little in return from Iran. Agreeing to lift the sanctions on Iran in exchange for, what they call, a temporary 15-year freeze on nuclear operations after which Iran would be free to resume or begin work on a nuclear bomb with far more resources than they have now.
Rouhani: If a country wanted, with the technical resources it has, to gain an atomic bomb, this deal would have been a very bad deal for it. Because the deal creates limitations from all sides to getting an atomic bomb, But if a country has been after peaceful technology from the beginning, then it has lost nothing. We wanted this incorrect accusation that Iran is after nuclear weapons corrected and resolved and that the goal of Iran is peaceful activity. In this deal, we have accepted limitations for a period of time in order to create more trust with the world.
Rouhani: There are similarities. It's natural that opponents always look for the maximum possible outcome. In an agreement, neither achieves the maximum. Both sides must always concede a little bit from the maximum to get an agreement. Therefore, the person who seeks the maximum complains. The result of this agreement benefits everyone, benefits both sides, because we have been able to reach an understanding, an agreement, on a very complicated issue at the negotiating table and be able to prevent misunderstandings, and take the first step towards trust. Of course, for reaching trust between the U.S. and Iran, there is need for a lot of time.
Kroft: Some of the opponents are very powerful. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards, for example, has condemned the deal. How do you deal with that? That's an important political force in this country.
Rouhani: It's clear that some will be opposed...some will be in favor, will express their opinions, but at the same time after the agreement is approved by the responsible institutions, everyone will comply with that. The Revolutionary Guards also, when the deal is approved by responsible institutions, they, too, will respect this agreement.
Kroft: some of the success has been undercut by very harsh statements from both sides. Since the deal, Ayatollah Khamanei has endorsed, even praised, the chanting of 'Death to America' and 'Death to Israel' he continues to call the United States the 'great Satan.' Do you believe the United States is the 'great Satan?'
Rouhani: The enmity that existed between the United States and Iran over the decades, the distance, the disagreements, the lack of trust, will not go away soon. What's important is which direction we are heading? Are we heading towards amplifying the enmity or decreasing this enmity? I believe we have taken the first steps towards decreasing this enmity.
Kroft: Do you think the United States is the 'great Satan?'
Rouhani: Satan in our religious parlance is used to refer to that power that tricks others and whose words are not clear words, do not match reality. What I can say is that the U.S. has made many mistakes in the past regarding Iran, and must make up for those mistakes.
Kroft: 'Death to America' is very simple concept. Three words, not much room left for interpretation. Not very conciliatory, do you see the day when that language will not be used? You yourself have encouraged both sides to try and lower the temperature.
Rouhani: If America puts the enmity aside, if it initiates good will, and if it compensates for the past, the future situation between the United States and Iran will change.
Kroft: The United States has just signed an agreement with Iran to lift the sanctions, is that not a sign of goodwill?
Rouhani: Relative to the past, it's improved. But this does not mean that all disagreements are resolved, or all the distrust removed, in one case, on one issue, yes, we have managed to overcome the problem.
Kroft: There has been speculation and hope both inside and outside of Iran and in the United States that this nuclear deal could be a catalyst for some broader, if limited, cooperation between the two countries where there are mutual interests.
Rouhani: Many areas exist where in those areas it's possible that common goals, or common interests, may exist. But what is important is that in the nuclear agreement, we see how the two sides behave in action. Enacting this deal in a good way will create a new environment.
Kroft: You have said that you are willing to sit down with any country, friend or enemy, to discuss the situation in Syria in order to stop the bloodshed. What does Iran see as a possible, workable, acceptable solution to the situation in Syria?
Rouhani: Look, in a county where a large segment of the country has been occupied by terrorists, and there is bloodshed inside the country, millions of people have been displaced, how is it possible that we fight the terrorists of this country without supporting and helping the government of that country? How can we fight the terrorists without the government staying? Of course, after we have fought terrorism and a secure environment is created, then it is time to talk about the constitution, or the future regime to talk and discuss opposition groups and supporters sit at the table, but during a situation of bloodshed and during an occupation of the country, what options exist?
Kroft: This agreement was a big political victory for you personally. You were elected president based on the idea that you wanted to open up Iran to the outside world that you wanted to get the sanctions lifted, that you wanted to bring prosperity back to the country, so Iran can take its place among the great nations of the world and not be isolated. There are still some things in that agenda those are still unfulfilled: freedom of speech, more access to the Internet and personal freedoms.
Rouhani: I think relative to the two years I've been in office, I have been successful - not 100 percent of course, but successful. Our relations with other countries have improved. There is more freedom at the universities, lively debates and greater freedom of the press, compared to the past. Of course, there are some issues that are not in control of the government.
Kroft: As we sit here speak the-- right now, there is a dual American/Iranian citizen, a journalist for the Washington Post, Jason Rezaian, in prison for more than a year on unspecified charges. There has been talk among leaders in the last few weeks that there might be a prisoner exchange. Is there anything you can say to clarify the situation?
Rouhani: We have Iranians who are imprisoned in the United States, Iranians who are being pursued and most of them are being pursued for circumventing the sanctions. And, you know, that from the beginning we considered the sanctions to be wrong, and we encouraged everyone to circumvent them. We consider all those prisoners to be innocent, and consider it wrong that they are in prison.
Kroft: Would you support a prisoner exchange?
Rouhani: I don't particularly like the word exchange, but from a humanitarian perspective, if we can take a step, we must do it. The American side must take its own steps.
Rouhani: As you know, in Iran, we are transferring the economy step by step to the private, nongovernmental sector. Our private sector and the American private sector can improve the environment. Actually, it will strengthen the nuclear agreement, even tourism, if the people of the United States come to Iran and see its ancient history and nature of Iran, and the people of Iran go to the United States to see America, this can shorten the walls of mistrust and improve the situation for the future.