(Photo: REUTERS/ Lucas Jackson)
In a Sunday interview, CNN's Fareed Zakaria asked Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about his desire to "wipe Israel off the map" and his support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Ahmadinejad said that Iran is loved around the world and thanked New Yorkers for their kindness while he was in the city to attend the annual meeting of the United Nation's General Assembly.
Zakaria pointed out on "GPS" that 20,000 Syrians have been killed by the Assad regime, 250,000 have fled the country and 1.2 million Syrians have been displaced by the civil war. Experts believe that the Syrian regime is being supported by Iran.
When asked if he would call for Assad to resign, Ahmadinejad answered, through a translator, that such a request would not solve the problem.
"And I'm truly sorry and saddened not only in Syria, but anywhere in the world from any side where there are people losing their lives," Ahmadinejad added.
He also suggested that Syria has a free election to resolve the dispute.
"We are on the side of the people. Everywhere, we're on the side of the people," Ahmadinejad said.
During his speech before the U.N. General Assembly last week, Ahmadinejad said that Israelis had "no roots" in the Middle East. Zakaria challenged this notion citing the Quran.
"Jews have lived there for thousands of years, and we know this, of course, because there are repeated references to the children of Israel in the Quran. There are 43 references to the children of Israel. In fact, one of them, chapter 17 Sura 104 says, 'we say onto the children of Israel, dwell in this land,' 'live in this land,' referring to the land that is now Israel. So do you dispute these facts or do you accept that there is some connection between the children of Israel and this land?" Zakaria said.
Ahmadinejad answered that he draws a distinction between the "Zionist regime" and Jews. He then called Zionism an "aggressive school of thought" that "has nothing to do with the Jewish people."
Zakaria asked Ahmadinejad if he understood why his statements about wanting to eliminate Israel combined with his nation's nuclear weapons programs concerns so many people.
Ahmadinejad suggested that Zakaria had no basis for suggesting that American citizens are concerned and that he is loved around the world.
"So really the people of the United States are concerned? They're shaking? Where do you – what do you base this on? The rest of the nations are worried, preoccupied, and trembling at this thought? What for? We are friends with all nations. Yourself as a reporter, you must know, as a member of the media, you must know that Ahmadinejad is quite popular and is quite loved and loves everyone equally. Iran is loved and Iran loves everyone equally," Ahmadinejad said.
As Zakaria pressed further, Ahmadinejad said that Zakaria does not speak for everyone and suggested that they step outside to the streets of New York to "find out what the people truly say."
Ahmadinejad also said that negotiations over Iran's nuclear program will resume after the U.S. elections in November.
"Certainly following the elections, certainly the atmosphere will be much more stable and important decisions can be made and announced."
At the end of the interview, Ahmadinejad apologized to the people of New York for the disruptions caused by his visit and thanked them for their kindness.