Talk to Al Jazeera

Ahmadinejad: ‘You can’t rule with war’

The Iranian leader discusses his country’s role in Syria’s conflict and shares his concerns over the region’s future.

The financial sanctions on Iran are now having a real impact. Earlier this week, people in Tehran openly complained that the Iranian currency is drastically losing value against the dollar, pushing up prices. 

Meanwhile, Iran’s leadership is already dealing with a threat from Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli leader, who delivered a strong speech at the United Nations against the Iranian nuclear programme.

There is also the situation in Syria, where Iran’s relationship with the Assad regime is forcing the Iranian leadership to take sides. And then there is Egypt: A new leader, President Morsi, is changing the geopolitical landscape. Is this an opening for Iran?

We sat down with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, in New York, to discuss where things stand and where we are headed.

“Not just Arab countries – all countries are in need of reform. Perhaps countries that think they are very advanced are the most in need of reform…

Iran too needs reform, but it’s the extent of reforms that is different. The same can be said for Syria. But my point is we need to talk about the method of these reforms.

There are two clear options [for Syria]: One is of war. Some feel that war will bring reform. They applaud conflict, they support conflict. The media climate might also support it. This might bring about a temporary end – a point might be reached where forces might come into the country to back the Syrian government. Or forces might come in to back the opposition, bringing things to an end in that way.

But I think that in the long term, this will harm Syria. Because you can’t rule with war. The Syrian military and people are of different tribes and they all have to get along. If tribal warfare breaks out, Syria will either break up – or it will continue, where one tribe takes control and the other will arm itself and keep fighting. So this is one method and it has supporters – on both sides.

But there’s a second way, that of a national dialogue for totally free elections. I think this second method is better and more beneficial for Syria…

Our relationship with Syria goes back a long time …. Some people want to use this to put pressure on Iran, to make accusations against Iran.

Do you really think that Syria doesn’t have friends who would arm it? Those who have been arming it for a long time? There are many in line before us. I’m not saying that people don’t make mistakes. There are those in every country that might make mistakes … I want to ask this question. Tomorrow this situation might happen in Jordan. Or it might happen in Saudi Arabia, or in Qatar and the UAE. Should there be war? I don’t agree with this. I think it’s very bad.

I think war is not a good method. Ultimately, Arab forces are more needed elsewhere – in places where people have been waiting 60 years for Arab forces…

Currently, we’re going towards a tribal war, and this is very dangerous. It’s not in the best interest of Syria. If tribal war breaks out, this will immediately spread to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. This isn’t a fire that can be contained. I’m more worried about the future.”

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president