Rafsanjani on 60 Minutes

60 Minutes CBS, Inc.
03/23/97

MIKE WALLACE, co-host: We Americans remember how Iran humiliated us by capturing our embassy and holding 52 of our countrymen hostage for 444 days. And Iranians remember how America supported the Shah, whom they hated and eventually overthrew. Even though that was 18 years ago, the speaker of Iran's Parliament still calls America a bloodsucking wolf. And House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls Iran the most dangerous nation on Earth. Iran's President Hashemi Rafsanjani told me he'd like to tone down that rhetoric. Rafsanjani rarely gives interviews to Western journalists, but he spoke with us partly because he wants to improve relations between Iran and America. As for President Clinton, he has shown little enthusiasm for talking to Iran.

You know what the president says. `Iran--the state of Iran sponsors terrorists' because you're--you're killing--killing dissidents. You've killed them in--in Germany, in France, in Iraq, in Turkey.

President HASHEMI RAFSANJANI (Iran): (Through Translator) These are all claims. Many of them are not true. In some cases, they have been distorted. WALLACE: Well, shall I leave with you this list--this list of people who have been either killed, assassinated or seriously injured by your people, your so-called terrorists? Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) Inside the United States, people who have been against the government, have they never been killed? What about those people in Waco who all burned to death?

(Footage of destroyed Marine barracks; protesters; Rafsanjani)

WALLACE: (Voiceover) What about those 241 American Marines who were killed in Beirut 13 years ago, apparently by Hezbollah? Iran created Hezbollah, and with Syria, continues to finance and coordinate its activities against Israel. And a Western intelligence report says in the last year, Iran has sent 30 planeloads of weapons to Hezbollah. The president found that report somehow amusing.

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) Humanitarian assistance is what those planes that you are talking about provide.

WALLACE: Missiles? Humanitarian assistance? Rockets?

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) You think those missiles launched there are not available in Lebanon? These are all Russian weapons, stocked in Lebanon from the old days.

(Footage of city; Rafsanjani addressing followers)

WALLACE: (Voiceover) President Rafsanjani is Iran's most popular politician. He came up the hard way. He was imprisoned and tortured under the Shah. Now at age 62, Rafsanjani is considered a moderate. But so far, hard-line religious leaders have blocked his efforts to improve relations with the US. And President Clinton hasn't helped. He slapped a US trade embargo on Iran. And the White House complains that Iran is doing all it can to scuttle the Mideast peace process. You get in the way of the peace process that is OK'd by King Hussein of Jordan, that is OK'd by Mubarak in Egypt, that has been OK'd by l--many, many Palestinians. You are more Palestinian, sir, than the Palestinians.

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) We have said we do not consider this peace a fair peace. And this peace process will not succeed because it has not addressed the issue of refugees.

WALLACE: Who knows more about the right of the Palestinians: Hashemi Rafsanjani or Yasir Arafat?

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) We are not alone. Many Palestinians speak like us. They also take action. We do not take any action.

(Footage of aftermath of bombings; hikers)

WALLACE: (Voiceover) But the US says Iranian money may have helped pay for these bombings of Israeli buses and markets that killed 61 civilians last year. Iran denies it. Rafsanjani condemns America's support of Israel and what he calls America's heavy-handed foreign policy, and most Iranians agree with him. We spoke with hikers up in the Elburz Mountains outside Teheran, where residents of the capital like to go on their day off. Unidentified Woman #1: You know what we feel about you, about United States? That you want to control every country, every policy, every movement--everything. Nobody can...

WALLACE: You really believe that.

Woman #1: We really believe in that.

WALLACE: For instance?

Woman #1: For example--about Iraq. If Iraq wants to capture Kuwait, it's none of America's business.

(Footage of woman)

WALLACE: (Voiceover) And she thought it was none of our business how Iranian women dressed. But still, she explained the dress code, which requires women to cover all but their faces with dark, loose-fitting clothes. Do you resent the fact that you have to wear chador?

Woman #1: No, no, no. I believe in it.

WALLACE: You do.

Woman #1: Yeah, I do.

WALLACE: Why?

Woman #1: I believe that all a woman's beauty--beauties are to be limited. It was for the--for one's family.

(Footage of Wallace standing in a group of people)

WALLACE: (Voiceover) But off camera, several women told us that most of them do resent having to wear those clothes, but they were afraid to complain about anything on camera.

Unidentified Woman #2: We shouldn't talk anything about politics, you should know. But I mean...

WALLACE: But this is a free country.

Woman #2: I mean, it's a...

Unidentified Man #1: No.

Woman #2: ...it's a free country, OK. It's a free country...

Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

WALLACE: Yes.

Woman #2: ...for you.

(Footage of a crowd of Iranians; women dressed in dark clothes; the police talking to motorcyclists; a woman looking at clothes in a store window)

WALLACE: (Voiceover) Iran is a tricky story for a television reporter because what you see may be less important than what you cannot see. Beyond the dress code, single people are not allowed to date. No one is allowed to drink alcohol. But behind closed doors and drawn curtains, many unmarried Iranians still have parties, even though they risk a fine and a night in jail if they get caught. How do you reconcile the public and private lives of your women? In private--you know this--many of them wear revealing clothes, many of them of a certain class drink whiskey, alcohol, and they mingle with men freely. And you know it's true. Doesn't the Islamic republic force some of its women anyway to be hypocritical in the lives they live?

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) There are some people who do not believe in our laws.

(Footage of women dressed in dark clothes; people boarding a bus; Wallace surrounded by students)

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator; voiceover) We can tell them to observe the dress code in the street. This is required by law. But in their homes, we can have no influence on them. They do what they want. We know there are many people like this.

WALLACE: (Voiceover) The sexes are kept so separate that men get on the front of the bus, women get on in back. But still, life for women is getting better. Women have more chances in both education and employment. These students at the Foreign Language Institute hope to become interpreters.

Do you find this young man attractive...

Unidentified Woman #3: Yes.

WALLACE: ...or one standing over there? Would there be a problem going to the movies together?

Unidentified Woman #4: Well, just talking is OK, no problem. But not--nothing more.

(Footage of Iranian citizens; buildings in Teheran; mural of Ayatollah Khomeini on the side of a building; a woman walking on the street; a consumer purchasing food; a couple walking down the street; temporary marriage certificate)

WALLACE: (Voiceover) But in Iran, as in America, people care most about the economy. The capital, Teheran, looks better than ever. It's clean and prosperous, with new buildings sprouting up all over. America's trade embargo has had little effect because America's allies, France and Germany, are gobbling up contracts that would have gone to US companies, so oil money keeps pouring in. Under the watchful gaze of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, who led the revolution against the Shah, the government has built highways and hospitals and schools in rural villages that never had them before. But in the cities, prices, especially food prices, are so high and wages so low that people often have to work at two or even three jobs just to make ends meet. In fact, many young people don't have enough money to get married, so more Iranians are resorting to what are called temporary marriages. They get a signed certificate from their local religious leader that declares them married for as little as one day, one week, one month.

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) There are many people who need to satisfy their instincts on a temporary basis.

WALLACE: For one day, or one week or one month?

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) Whatever the length of time.

WALLACE: It sounds like legitimizing illicit sexual relations.

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) No, there is an order to it. Psychologically, this is a legal act, not a forbidden act that everyone is afraid of.

(Footage of soldiers; students with Wallace)

WALLACE: But there is still plenty of fear in Iran. Students told us if they criticized the government, they'd be thrown out of the university.

Woman #4: We don't like to talk about politics at all.

Woman #3: Politics, yeah.

WALLACE: Really.

Woman #4: That's right.

WALLACE: Why?

Woman #4: Well, because it's dangerous--one, to talk about politics.

WALLACE: It's dangerous?

Woman #4: Yeah. Sure.

(Footage of male students talking to Wallace)

WALLACE: (Voiceover) We saw what she meant when we were confronted by some fundamentalist students who demanded to know what we'd been up to.

Unidentified Man #2: I'd like to know what your question that you a--you asked our students here...

WALLACE: Sir, it is none of your business.

(Footage of Wallace addressing the male students)

WALLACE: (Voiceover) They objected to our having talked about author Salman Rushdie, who is still targeted for assassination by Iran because of a book he wrote nine years ago that they feel slandered Islam.

Unidentified Man #3: If I face with Salman Rushdie myself, I murder him--him because he--he doesn't respect Islamic religion.

Man #2: Because he is not human being, at least; because he was a person who destroyed our culture.

WALLACE: It seems to me that your culture has survived Salman Rushdie.

(Footage of mural on wall showing a bat, a satellite dish and a satellite in space)

WALLACE: (Voiceover) Now the hard-liners believe their culture is under aerial attack. Government murals warn people not to be seduced by evil influences from private satellite dishes. The government here banned private satellite dishes about a year ago because they were becoming alarmed at the huge enthusiasm young Iranians were showing for Western television--movies, fashion--the lifestyles that they could see on their television sets.

(Footage of satellite dishes behind bushes and on the floor inside near a window; a person watching TV)

WALLACE: (Voiceover) So now Iranians are hiding their illegal satellite dishes outside behind the bushes, or inside near a window. But the truth is it will be simply impossible for the government to ban Western influences, because they are literally falling from the sky.

Do you know what "Baywatch" is?

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) No, I haven't seen it.

WALLACE: Young women, very small bathing suits.

(Excerpt from "Baywatch")

WALLACE: (Voiceover) And there are people who have satellite dishes in Iran who charge their neighbors to go to their place because they still have a satellite dish to watch "Baywatch."

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) It might be so. But you must admit that these kinds of programs cause problems for young people. They weaken the foundation of a family, and they have created problems in the West. And the statistics of women without husbands and children without fathers in the West are terrible.

WALLACE: Are you suggesting that perhaps we should have an Islamic republic of the United States?

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) No. I am saying that you should have good ethics. Do not allow perversion in the ethics of your young people.

(Footage of Iranian children)

WALLACE: (Voiceover) And Iran is awash in young people. More than half the population now is under 20 years of age, and President Rafsanjani fears they are the most susceptible to the lure of American television.

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) Things like the Playboy channel or Hollywood films do not help the progress of your country and your people.

WALLACE: How are you familiar with Playboy programs? Do you have a satellite dish, Mr. President?

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) No. We hear these things. We read these things in reports.

(Footage of Rafsanjani; visual of New York Times headline declaring Iranian assets frozen)

WALLACE: Many Iranians told us they admire America. At least one-third of President Rafsanjani's Cabinet members were educated in the United States. But Rafsanjani says he cannot convince his colleagues to engage in talks with America unless the US releases frozen Iranian assets, billions of dollars Iran sent to America to buy weapons. The weapons sales stopped when the Shah was deposed, but the money remained in the US.

Let's you and I play a game.

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) We are not here to play game.

WALLACE: I'm the United States; you're Iran. I give you the money. What do you do for me?

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) Then we'll be ready to talk to one another.

WALLACE: You serious?

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) This would be a sign of goodwill. You may choose something else as evidence of goodwill.

(Footage of Rafsanjani; nuclear plant)

WALLACE: (Voiceover) But for now, instead of talking to each other, Iran and America keep talking past each other. For example, US officials say their biggest concern is Iran's program to build a nuclear bomb. Iran insists it only wants nuclear energy, not the bomb.

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) What the Americans did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki has had everybody hate the idea of getting the bomb.

WALLACE: You are not going after a nuclear bomb.

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) Definitely not.

WALLACE: You swear on Allah.

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) Swearing is not needed. Those who swear are the ones who want to lie. We are not going after the nuclear bomb or biological weapons or chemical weapons.

WALLACE: Absolutely not.

Pres. RAFSANJANI: (Through Translator) Absolutely not.

WALLACE: After eight years, Rafsanjani's term as president ends this summer, but he'll remain a top leader in Iran's hierarchy. More of our interview with President Rafsanjani will be shown later this week on C-SPAN.


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