Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi says he cannot trust Americans, calls sanctions “tyrannical”

The United States first imposed financial sanctions on Iran in 1979 during the hostage crisis. For nearly four decades, the US State Department has designated Iran as one of the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism.

But the Obama administration, along with five other countries, agreed to provide billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for Iran’s deal, scrapping most of its nuclear program and opening its facilities to wider international oversight.

The Trump administration, distrusting Tehran, pulled out of the deal and stepped in to crush economic pressure.

This is where Ibrahim Raisi found himself when he was elected president a year earlier. Last month, Iran and the 61-year-old radical were on the verge of striking a new deal, but then demanded that Iran send nuclear talks into a stalemate.

We met with President Raisi on Tuesday at the presidential complex in Tehran for his first interview with a Western journalist. I was told how to dress, not to sit in front of him, and not to interrupt him. We were given one hour for the interview.

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Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi meets with 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahli

Leslie Stahl: Can we start negotiating the nuclear deal. Do you want- can that deal be renewed? Because you know, there are some American officials who are starting to think that you don’t.

President Ibrahim Raisi (translation): If it is a good deal and a fair deal, we will be serious about reaching an agreement. It needs to be durable. There should be a guarantee. If there was a guarantee, the Americans could not back out of the deal.

Leslie Stahl: But you can get out of the deal I mean, as well as we can get out of the deal.

President Ibrahim Raisi (Translation): You see, the Americans broke their promises. He did it unilaterally. He said that, “I’m out of the deal.” Now making promises is becoming meaningless.

Leslie Stahl: Are you saying you can’t trust Americans?

President Ibrahim Raisi (translation): We cannot trust Americans because of the behavior we have already seen from them. So if there is no guarantee, there is no trust.

America says the West cannot trust Iran. For example, when he claims that his nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes.

Leslie Stahl: As far as we can tell you don’t use, you know, things that can help your citizens, like electricity. You say you want it for peaceful reasons. Like what?

President Ibrahim Raisi (translation): As in medicine, agriculture, oil, gas.

In terms of “peaceful purposes”, one available figure – from the United Nations Nuclear Monitoring Agency, IAEA – is that only 1.8% of the country’s electricity is generated from nuclear power.

Leslie Stahl: There seems to be some evidence that you were working toward, at least before, bomb, bomb, weapon, and you might be doing it again.

President Ibrahim Raisi (Translation): We have responded to these claims many times. They are baseless. The Islamic Republic of Iran has said several times that nuclear weapons have no place in our doctrine.

However, the US intelligence community has assessed “with high confidence” that Iran attempted to develop a nuclear bomb in the past.

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And then there are US citizens being detained in Tehran, three of whom were born in Iran.

Leslie Stahl: If there is a deal– would you agree to release the four Americans who are being held here? Could this be part of it?

President Ibrahim Raisi (translation): Iranian citizens are also imprisoned inside the US, these people are there only because they tried to bypass the sanctions. And Americans, we’ve told them we can talk to them about it. It can be conducted separately from the nuclear talks. This can be done between the two countries. This is a human issue. This can be discussed.

Leslie Stahl: You’re off to New York. You are going to speak at the United Nations. You know, President Biden will be there. Are you ready for a meeting with President Biden? A face to face?

SPEAKER Ibrahim Raisi (Translation): No. I don’t think such a meeting will happen. I do not believe that meeting or interacting with him would be beneficial.

Leslie Stahl: What do you think is the difference between the Trump administration and the Biden administration from your point of view?

President Ibrahim Raisi (Translation): The new administration in America, he claims, is different from the Trump administration. He told us this in his messages. But we haven’t seen any change in reality.

His major complaint against President Biden is that he has maintained the sanctions imposed by President Trump on Iran.

President Ibrahim Raisi (translation): The sanctions are very atrocious. This is an atrocity on the people of Iran. It is important for us to remove the restrictions.

The sanctions pushed Iran into a two-year recession, mainly because oil exports from such refineries fell from 2.8 million barrels a day to nearly 200,000. Business has been cut off from international banking. With inflation in Iran exceeding 40% today, virtually everything is more expensive.

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A boy talks to reporter Leslie Stahli in one of Tehran’s bazaars

And yet, we found the traffic here just as packed as in New York. And as we saw, Tehran’s markets are full of buyers. The people we met were friendly to us.

Boy: How are you?

Leslie Stahl: Oh, I’m good. How are you?

Boy: Fantastic. and you?

Leslie Stahl: Okay. do you study english in school?

Boy: No!

One reason for the bustling commerce is something the president calls the “resistance economy” in which businesses are encouraged to make things themselves that they used to import: hence, home-made blue jeans.

Leslie Stahl: Do you know where these are made?

Merchant: In Iran.

Leslie Stahl: In Iran?

Merchant: In our country.

Also Made in Iran: Washing Machine, Refrigerator, TV. They even have their own version of Uber Eats called Snapp! Meal.

Iran is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, dating back to 4000 BC. It was here that the foundations of algebra and chemistry were developed.

Today, while the Islamic Republic continues to focus on religious tradition, it is one of the most westernized countries in the Middle East with a well-educated population.

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a mall in Iran

This mall could be anywhere in America, with an ice-skating rink, a food court with hot dogs and burgers, and—at least expected—sexy window displays. And yet President Raisey just made a decree arresting women who don’t dress modestly.

A young woman died on Friday after she was taken into custody by the ethics police for violating the rules of covering her head. Eyewitnesses say they saw him being beaten up in a police van. President Raisi’s office says he has ordered an investigation.

Sayyid Ibrahim Raisi is a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, as symbolized by his black turban according to Shia Muslim tradition. He is a rigid, conservative cleric like his mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Leslie Stahl: I want to ask you about your own record. There is a personal sanction against you. You participated in a commission that was responsible for the execution of 5,000 political dissidents. They were hanged or shot by firing squad. I want to ask if you regret that action.

President Ibrahim Raisi (translation): What kind of evidence can you present for this? These are just allegations and claims made by members of a terrorist group.

Leslie Stahl: You’re saying that wasn’t true? And that-

President Ibrahim Raisi (translation): Anyone who commits a crime in Iran is tried in the official courts of law and gets punished for what they did. They were killing people. And what happened to them happened in exactly the same proportion as what they did.

But the US Treasury Department personally sanctioned Raisi for a human rights violation and Amnesty International called it a crime against humanity.

The president was feuding with us, sprinkling his answers with a predictable antipathy toward Israel and the Jewish people.

The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, was incensed when he tweeted the same topic in English in 2018:

“Israel is a malignant, cancerous tumor… which has to be removed and eradicated.”

Leslie Stahl: Do you believe the Holocaust happened? That 6 million Jews were slaughtered?

President Ibrahim Raisi (Translation): Look… Historical events should be investigated by researchers and historians. There are some indications that this happened. If so, they should be allowed to investigate and research it.

Leslie Stahl: So you’re not sure, I guess you’re not sure. What about Israel’s right to exist?

President Ibrahim Raisi (translation): You see, the people of Palestine are the reality. It is the right of the people of Palestine who were forced to leave their home and homeland. Americans are supporting this false regime to take root there and be established there.

Leslie Stahl: You know that Morocco, Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates all recognized Israel – and have relations with Israel. And it is said that Saudi Arabia is also in direct talks with Israel. And I wonder if you want to comment on that.

President Ibrahim Raisi (translation): If a state joins hands with the Zionist regime, they are also partners in their crimes. And they are stabbing the very idea of ​​Palestine in the back.

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Leslie Stahl: You have vowed to take revenge on the US government for the murder of your General Soleimani.

More than two years ago, the US killed General Qasim Soleimani in a drone strike. A respected military hero in Iran, he masterminded deadly attacks on US forces across the region for years. The Supreme Leader has called for retaliation.

Leslie Stahl: Do you intend to retaliate by killing Trump administration officials?

President Ibrahim Raisi (Translation): What the then US government did under direct orders from Trump himself to assassinate Mr. Qasem Soleimani was a heinous crime. We want justice to be done. We are not going to forget about this.

Leslie Stahl: I’m wondering what you mean by “justice”. Does it mean eye for eye? It was murder, now we will tell you about an answer murder?

President Ibrahim Raisi (Translation): We are not going to do the same kind of actions that the American and Zionist regimes are taking in the world.

And yet, the US Justice Department has charged a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard with plotting to assassinate President Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton.

As he prepares for his visit to the United Nations, President Raisi is defiant. His message: No concessions in the nuclear deal, Iran will not back down and it can avoid sanctions, which he says may well backfire against the United States.

President Ibrahim Raisi (translation): Yes, they can create sanctions and problems for us and difficulties. But there are many countries that are being banned. By doing so he is bringing them closer, thereby bringing them closer together. And it would make US sanctions ineffective.

Leslie Stahl: Well, the Chinese, the Russians, the Iranians are getting closer.

President Ibrahim Raisi (translation): This approach will not work.

As we ended a cordial conversation, we were surprised when a member of Raisey’s staff stopped one of our cameramen from shooting our goodbyes.

The phone of another of our cameramen was confiscated by President Raisi’s security team for two and a half hours.

Produced by Richard Bonin. Associate Producers, Mirella Brusani and Colette Richards. Field Producer, Syed Rahim Bathai. Broadcast collaborators, Eliza Costas and Wren Woodson. Edited by Peter M. Berman.

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