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Twenty-seven years after a chilling sit-down with Ayatollah Khomeini that was one of Mike Wallace's most memorable, the CBS newsman snagged an interview this week with current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Teheran.
In typical fashion, Wallace was not afraid to confront the Iranian president on a number of contentious topics. Although forthcoming with some answers, others were much more reserved.
"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 â€¦" he continued as he was interrupted.
"Are you the representative of the Zionist regime? Or a journalist?" Ahmadinejad responded.
In the past year, the Iranian president has made frequent remarks claiming the fabrication of the Holocaust. Wallace, who is Jewish, tried to challenge Ahmadinejad's position, but on this, too, the Iranian president was elusive.
"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, but to no avail. The president continued to avoid a direct answer until the conversation moved to Iraq.
On the question of Israel, Ahmadinejad barely elaborated.
"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.
A short while later, Wallace again challenged the president on the topic of Israel.
"You are very good at filibustering," Wallace remarked. "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."
Although Ahmadinejad never returned to the issue of Israel, he was very interested in talking about the United States and their response to Iran as a potential nuclear power. According to the Iranian president, it was not Iran but the US which is afraid of international dialogue.
"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," the Iranian president said.
Of Ahmadinejad, Wallace said, "He's an impressive fellow, this guy. He really is. He's obviously smart as hell."
Wallace said he was surprised to find that the Iranian president was still a college professor who taught a graduate-level course.
"You'll find him an interesting man," he said. "I expected more of a firebrand. I don't think he has the slightest doubt about how he feels ... about the American administration and the Zionist state. He comes across as more rational than I had expected."
During the midst of the American hostage crisis in 1979, Wallace interviewed Iranian leader Khomeini, locking eyes with the cleric when he asked for a response to Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat calling Khomeini a lunatic.
He said the Iranian president told him it was important to keep doing interesting things. And Wallace is already thinking about his next story: he said he's trying for an interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
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