TEHRAN, Iran - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted Thursday in an interview with NBC News that he did not “see any problems” with his re-election, which was met with days of violence in the streets.
In the interview, which was conducted by NBC News’ Ann Curry in the Iranian capital, Tehran, Ahmadinejad said “any person can express his or her point of view,” but only “within the confines of the law.”
Ahmadinejad was proclaimed the winner of the June 12 election, but opponents insist that Mir Hossein Mousavi actually prevailed and that the government faked the balloting in Ahmadinejad’s favor.
In the wake of the vote, thousands of opponents poured into the streets to rally against the alleged vote fraud but were met with a heavy government crackdown.
The opposition says at least 72 protesters were killed, while government officials maintain that 36 died in the unrest, the worst in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which brought the current regime to power. Thousands of people were arrested, some of whom the regime’s opponents have charged were tortured to death in prison.
The post-election protests and accusations were not evidence that the election was tainted, Ahmadinejad said, but proof that Iranians enjoyed full freedom of speech.
“The legal frameworks inside Iran are very clear, and if a person has an opinion to express within the confines of the law, they are free to express such opinions,” he said.
Iran’s election laws are built on “the strongest ... foundations,” he said, and “the law prevails. I don’t see any problems.”
NBC News released a short excerpt of the interview early Thursday afternoon. Fuller excerpts were to be aired Thursday evening on “NBC Nightly News.”
U.S. won’t talk ‘for talking’s sake’
The interview was conducted two weeks before the first multilateral talks on Iran’s nuclear program, the first involving Iran since a 2008 session in Geneva foundered over its refusal to discuss enrichment.
The United States, the European Union and Israel fear that Iran is using its nuclear program to develop nuclear weapons. But Tehran says that the program serves purely civilian purposes and that it has the right to enrich uranium for use in nuclear power plants.
All parties involved in the Oct. 1 discussions have expressed hope that the contacts could lead to substantive negotiations — despite Iran’s warnings that it would not discuss U.N. Security Council demands that it freeze uranium enrichment.
“We’re not talking for talking’s sake,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said last weekend, adding that Iran’s nuclear program “may not have been a topic they wanted to be brought up, but I can assure you it’s a topic that we’ll bring up.”
Iran is under three sets of Security Council sanctions, primarily for refusing to mothball its enrichment program. Its stonewalling of a probe by the International Atomic Energy Agency of allegations that it worked on developing nuclear weapons has aggravated tensions.
The United States has announced that Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, who was at the 2008 talks as an observer, would again represent the United States. But this time, EU officials have said, Burns will be a full participant in the meeting, which will also include representatives of Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Washington this week that the United States would insist on discussing Iran’s nuclear program.
“I think it is important to underscore that we have made clear to the Iranians that any talks we participate in must address the nuclear issue head on,” Clinton said. “It cannot be ignored. Iran says it has a number of issues that it wishes to discuss with us, but what we are concerned about is discussing with them the questions surrounding their nuclear program and ambitions.”
Israel also has urged the international community to opt for toughness in the talks, not compromise, and to impose harsh sanctions if the talks falter again.
“If Iran doesn’t take these talks seriously and miscalculates, then you have possibility of these sanctions,” said Reva Bhalla, director of analysis at Stratfor, a U.S.-based international intelligence firm. “Washington is under pressure from Israel, which sees a serious urgency on this issue and is not likely to drop the push for aggressive sanctions.”