(CBS) When Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks out candidly — as is his habit — he scares a lot of people. He has said more than once that Israel should be wiped off the map, and that the Holocaust is an overblown fairytale.
When correspondent Mike Wallace interviewed him in Tehran last week, it became apparent that he sees the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah — a militia Iran has long supported — as part of a larger battle between the U.S. and a militant Islam for control of the Middle East.
"Very clearly, I will tell you that I fully oppose the behavior of the British and the Americans," Ahmadinejad tells Wallace. "They are providing state-of-the-art military hardware to the Zionists. And they are throwing their full support behind Israel. We believe that this threatens the future of all peoples, including the American and European peoples. So we are asking why the American government is blindly supporting this murderous regime."
Wallace tried to ask him about Hezbollah's use of missiles, rockets furnished by Iran, but he wanted to talk about Israel's attacks with American bombs.
"The laser-guided bombs that have been given to the Zionists and they're targeting the shelter of defenseless children and women," the president said.
"Who supports Hezbollah?" Wallace asked. "Who has given Hezbollah hundreds of millions of dollars for years? Who has given Hezbollah Iranian-made missiles and rockets that is making — that are making all kinds …" he continued as he was interrupted.
"Are you the representative of the Zionist regime? Or a journalist?" Ahmadinejad asked Wallace.
"I'm a journalist. I am a journalist," Wallace replied.
"This is not journalism, sir. Hezbollah is a popular organization in Lebanon, and they are defending their land," the president said. "They are defending their own houses. And, according to the charter of the United Nations, every person has the right to defend his house.
"What I'm saying is that the killing of innocents is reprehensible. And making this — the displacement of people and making them refugees, again, is reprehensible,"
"Well, what has Hezbollah, though — wait a minute," Wallace asked. "Hezbollah is displacing and damaging and making bleed all kinds of people. You know that."
"Please tell me, are the Lebanese inside the occupied lands right now or is it the other way around, that the Zionist troops are in Lebanese territory?" Ahmadinejad replied. "Lebanon is defending its independence. We are not at all happy with war. That is why on the first day we condemned these recent — conflict. And we asked for an immediate cease fire."
Ahmadinejad told Wallace the United Nations Security Council has not passed an effective ceasefire resolution because the Security Council is in America's pocket.
"Tell, the reason is, that the United Nations Security Council is there to safeguard the interests of the British and the Americans. They are not there to provide security. It's very clear," the president said.
"The UNSC, the United Nations Security Council, is there to protect the interests of the United States and the British. That's what you say?" Wallace asked.
"It has been created to help with peace and justice. But we see that it is not responding to atrocities. If we search for the root causes we see the hand of the British and the Americans," Ahmadinejad said. "People, innocent people are being killed. … And houses are being destroyed. Where is the UNSC? Also, the draft resolution which has been circulated only serves the interests of one party. And it is not just."
And, he told Wallace the Security Council is also doing America's bidding by trying to prevent Iran from developing nuclear energy. The Security Council is demanding that Iran stop all uranium enrichment by the end of this month, which Iran is refusing to do.
"But if Mr. Bush thinks that he can stop our progress, I have to say that he will be unable to do that," Ahmadinejad said.
Asked to elaborate, the president said: "We want to have access to nuclear technology. We want to produce fuel. Do you not think that the most important issue of the world of tomorrow that is will be energy?
"We think that Mr. Bush's team and the parties that support him want to monopolize energy resources in the world. Because once they have that they can impose their opinions, points of view, policies on other nations and, of course, line their own pockets."
"President Bush said — vowed — he will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. You believe it?" Wallace asked.
"Basically we are not looking for — working for the bomb," the president said. "The problem that President Bush has is in his mind he wants to solve everything with bombs. The time of the bomb is in the past. It's behind us. Today is the era of thoughts, dialogue and cultural exchanges."
But "dialogue and cultural exchanges" don't sound like his policy toward Israel.
"Israel, you have said time and again, Israel must be wiped off the map. Please explain why. And what is Iran doing about that?" Wallace asked.
"Well, allow me to finish with the nuclear dossier first," Ahmadinejad said.
"No, you finished with that. You finished with that. Please," Wallace continued.
"No, it's not finished, sir. It's not finished. We are just beginning," Ahmadinejad said.
"OK, oh!" Wallace replied with a chuckle. "That's what I was afraid of. But go."
"Well, the Americans are overly sensitive. And, of course, the American government. I don't know why they're opposed to Iranian progress," the president said.
Asked if he really believed that the United States is against Iranian progress and development, Ahmadinejad said, "That is true. That is what I am saying."
"You know that's not so," Wallace replied.
President Ahmadinejad then offered an explanation for his theory.
"Before the revolution, the German, French, American government and the Canadian government had signed contracts with us to produce nuclear fuel inside Iran. But immediately after the establishment of the Islamic Republic, their opposition started," he said. "Right now, they are opposed to our nuclear technology. Now why is that?"
The United States is convinced that nuclear energy is just a smokescreen and that what Iran really wants is the bomb. Then Wallace tried to get the president back to his most inflammatory statement regarding Israel.
"You are very good at filibustering," Wallace remarked. "You still have not answered the question. You still have not answered the question. Israel must be wiped off the map. Why?"
"Well, don't be hasty sir," the president said. "I'm going to get to that. I think that the Israeli government is a fabricated government."
"Fabricated" following the Holocaust, which he's said may also have been fabricated.
Last December, Ahmadinejad said the Europeans had created a myth of the Holocaust.
"What I did say was, if this is a reality, if this is real, where did it take place?" Ahmadinejad replied.
"In Germany," Wallace said.
"Who — who caused this in Europe?" Ahmadinejad asked.
"In Europe. If I may … so …what you're suggesting — one moment — what you're suggesting then, that Israel should be over in Germany because that's where the holocaust took place?" Wallace asked.
"I'm not saying that, mind you," the president replied.
But he has said Israel could be moved to Europe, or even to the United States but it shouldn't be in Palestine.
"Well, if an atrocity was committed in Germany or Europe for that matter, why should the Palestinians answer for this?" the president asked. "They had no role to play in this. Why on the pretext of the Holocaust they have occupied Palestine? Millions of people have been made refugees. Thousands of people to-date have been killed, sir. Thousands of people have been put in prison. Well, at the very moment, a great war is raging because of that."
"Look if you could — if you could keep your answers concise. Concise. I beg you. We'll get more questions in," Wallace requested.
"Well, one of your questions required — all of your questions require a book-long answer. If you want me to just finish the interview, please tell me and we can wrap up right now," the president said.
"No, no, no, no, no," Wallace said.
"Do you, perhaps want me to say what you want me to say?" Ahmadinejad said to Wallace.
"No, no," Wallace insisted.
"If that is the case, then I ask you to please be patient," the president replied. "Maybe these days you don't have a lot of patience to spare. Maybe these are words that you don't like to hear, Mr. Wallace."
"Why? What? What words do I not like to hear?" Wallace asked.
"Because I think that you're getting angry," Ahmadinejad said.
"I couldn't be happier for the privilege of sitting down with the president of Iran," Wallace said.
And with that established, Wallace moved on to the topic of Iraq.
"I am told that your revolutionary guards, Mr. President, are taking bombs, those — those roadside bombs — the IED's into Iraq. And what they are doing is furnishing the insurgents in Iraq with the kind of material that can kill U.S. soldiers. Why would you want to do that?" Wallace asked.
"Well, we are very saddened that the people of Iraq are being killed," Ahmadinejad replied. "I believe that the rulers of the U.S. have to change their mentality. I ask you, sir, what is the American army doing inside Iraq? Iraq has a government, a parliament. Iraq is — has a civilized nation with a long history of civilization. These are people we're dealing with."
Asked if he thinks Saddam Hussein was a civilized, reasonable, leader and whether the United States was wrong about going into Iraq, Ahmadinejad said: "Well, Saddam's story has been finished for close to three years, I would say. He belongs in the past. … And the Americans are openly saying that 'We are here for the long run,' in Iraq that is. So, a question for you, according to international law, the responsibility of providing security rests on the shoulder of the occupying, rather army. So, I ask them why are not — why are they not providing security?"
Instead of security, he says the United States is oppressing Iraq, and instead of calling the United States, "the great Satan," as the Ayatollah Khomeini did, Ahmadinejad calls the United States "the great oppressor."
"We are opposed to oppression," the president told Wallace. "We support whoever is victimized and oppressed even the oppressed people of the U.S."
A senior European diplomat in Tehran told Wallace that Iran's president feels the United States should be confronted in Iraq — and around the world — because he truly believes that the U.S. government is against Islam, and the developing world, that America keeps pushing Iran and other countries around, and he is determined to push back.
The Bush administration paints Iran's president as America's mortal enemy — as a man who wants nuclear weapons and supports Islamic terrorists. For his part, President Ahmadinejad views the United States as his major adversary.
He's the son of a blacksmith; was a commando during the Iran-Iraq war; has a Ph.D. in civil engineering, and became president a year ago by running as a populist man of the people. He is savvy, self-assured and self-righteous, but he rarely gives interviews to American journalists. His last U.S. newspaper interview was six months ago in USA Today.
But he sat down with 60 Minutes because he wanted to speak directly to the American people — and to President Bush.
Asked what he thinks of Mr. Bush, Ahmadinejad replied, "What do you think I should think about the gentlemen? How should I think about him?"
"Come on. Come on. You're perfectly capable of handling that question if you have the courage to answer it," Wallace pushed.
"Well, thank you very much. So, you're teaching me how to be bold and courageous," Ahmadinejad said, laughing. "That's interesting."
"Answer the question," Wallace said.
"I think that Mr. Bush can be in the service of his own people," Ahmadinejad said. "He can save the American economy using appropriate methodologies without killing people, innocents, without occupation, without threats. I am very saddened to hear that 1 percent of the total population is in prison. And 45 million people don't have a health care cover. That is very sad to hear."
And he was sad also not to hear any answer from President Bush to an 18-page letter he sent three months ago, urging him to be less bellicose in his view of the world. The White House dismissed the letter as a publicity stunt.
Asked what he expected to hear back from President Bush, Ahmadinejad said: "I was expecting Mr. Bush to give up or, I should say, to change his behavior. I was hoping to open a new window for the gentlemen. One can certainly look on the world from other perspectives. You can love the people. You can love all people. You can talk with the people of the Middle East using another language, other words. Instead of blind support for an imposed regime, they can establish a more appropriate relationship with the people of the region."
"You can love the people. That's very easy to say," Wallace remarked. "You despise certain people. You despise the Zionists."
"Well, I don't despise people or individuals, I should say," Ahmadinejad said.
Pushed further on Zionists, the president said, "What I am saying is that I despise heinous action."
And as for his letter to Mr. Bush.
"In the letter you praise Jesus and ask President Bush how he could be a follower of Christ and claim to support human rights but at the same time attack and occupy other countries, kill thousands of people, spend billions of dollars on wars. And you urged him, the president, out of respect for the teachings of Christ to be a force for peace instead of war. How is that so?" Wallace asked.
"That is true, which was a part of my letter," Ahmadinejad acknowledged.
And then he had a new message for President Bush: "Please give him this message, sir. Those who refuse to accept an invitation to good will not have a good ending or fate."
Asked what that means, Ahmadinejad said: "Well, you see that his approval rating is dropping everyday. Hatred vis-à-vis the president is increasing everyday around the world. For a ruler, this is the worst message that he could receive. Rulers and heads of government at the end of their office must leave the office holding their heads high."
After Ahmadinejad answered the question, an assistant handed the president a note. Asked what he was telling him, Ahmadinejad said he had been told to rearrange his jacket.
"Why are they worried about your jacket? I think you look just fine," Wallace said, laughing.
"That is right. They have told me the same thing. They tell me that it's a very nice looking coat," Ahmadinejad replied.
Asked if he is a vain man, Ahmadinejad said, "Sometimes appearances — yes, you have to look your back… that is why I comb my hair."
"What do you do for leisure?" Wallace asked.
"I study. I read books. I exercise. And, of course, I spend some time — quality time — with my family," said Ahmadinejad, who is a father of three.
"How long has it been since the leaders of Iran and the leaders of the U.S. have had any conversations?" Wallace asked.
"Twenty-six, 27 years," the president replied.
Asked if he has a desire to resume relations with the United States, Ahmadinejad said, "Who cut the relations, I ask you."
"That's not the point. The question is would you, the president of Iran, like to resume relations which have been gone for 26, 27 years with the United States," Wallace pressed.
"Well, we are interested to have relations with all governments … and all nations. This is a principle of my foreign policy," Ahmadinejad said.
"I know that," Wallace said.
"Allow me to finish myself," Ahmadinejad said.
"Why don't you just answer, say yes or no?" Wallace asked. "Do you want to have relations now, after 26, 27 years, with the United States? What harm could come from that?"
"We are not talking about harm. The conditions, conducive conditions, have to be there," Ahmadinejad said.
Asked what those "conducive conditions" are, the president said, "Well, please look at the makeup of the American administration, the behavior of the American administration. See how they talk down to my nation. They want to build an empire. And they don't want to live side by side in peace with other nations."
"Who does not? Washington does not?" Wallace asked.
"The American government, sir. It is very clear to me they have to change their behavior and everything will be resolved," Ahmadinejad answered.
"I am told that your aides want us to wind up our interview. But you kindly promised to answer my questions," Wallace said. "And I still have just a few left."
"Well, you might have five more hours of questions now," Ahmadinejad said. "Well, I have other appointments to get to. It's time for the night prayer, sir."
"Last one," Wallace said. "You have a special unit of martyr seekers in your revolutionary guard. They claim they have 52,000 trained suicide bombers ready to attack American and British targets if America should attack Iran."
"So, are you expecting the Americans to threaten us and we sit idly by and watch them with our hands … tied?" Ahmadinejad said.
Asked if the Americans have threatened him, Ahmadinejad said: "I do hope that the Americans will give up this practice of threatening other nations so that you are not forced me to ask such questions. I wish you well."