The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; 4110; Khomeini Interview
ROBERT MacNEIL: Tonight, the man who could overthrow the Shah of Iran speaks from his headquarters in France.
Good evening from Ponchartrain, France. For the last seven weeks this small village, twenty miles to the south of Paris, has become the center of resistance to the Shah of Iran. It is the temporary residence of the man who symbolizes the religious opposition to the Shah and who guides the movement to overthrow him. He is the seventy-eight-year-old Moslem religious leader, Ruhollah Khomeini. His title is Ayatollah.
He was exiled from Iran by the Shah fifteen years ago, and is now living modestly in this French village, subsisting on a spartan diet of prayer and little food while issuing stern political communiques and receiving scores of Iranians drawn to this unlikely center of power. To protect him from possible assassination, the French police are providing heavy, round-the-clock security. Khomeini, a noted religious scholar of the Shi`ite Moslem sect to which most Iranians belong, says that the Shah must be overthrown so that a republic true to the teachings of Islam can be established. His opposition to the Shah largely inspired the strikes and demonstrations that brought Iran to the point of paralysis last month. Now Khomeini has called on Iranians to rise up again and use any possible means to overthrow the regime, starting tomorrow, the first day of the Shi`ite month of mourning, called Muharram. The stage is thus set for what could be the final and possibly bloody confrontation between the Shah and his opponents. This afternoon I talked with the man responsible in his small reception room in this humble cottage. He spoke Persian, interpreted by his associate, Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi.
(Via satellite. Ponchartrain, France.) (Recorded earlier today.)
MacNEIL: Ayatollah Khomeini, you have told the people of Iran that they should use, starting tomorrow, any possible means to overthrow the regime of the Shah. What does "any possible means" mean?
Ayatollah KHOMEINI: Strikes, demonstrations, all sorts of the political activities. The month of Muharram is the month that people are ready and prepared to hear the words of the truth, and the cause that we are striking is the right and the truth, which is the independence of the country and the liberty of our own people. Therefore I have ordered them to speak out anywhere that they can, and if they were prevented, come out and conduct and hold those meetings anywhere possible.
MacNEIL: How are your orders communicated to the millions of your followers in Iran?
KHOMEINI: People, they are supporting me and following me. The issues that I bring are their own issues. It is related to them, therefore they feel obligated to pass it around.
MacNEIL: But how do they find out about it? Is there a chain of command, people in Iran who hear what you have to say and execute your orders?
KHOMEINI: There are people that are trusted by us, and they receive these memorandums and they will pass it to the people.
MacNEIL: If the strikes and peaceful demonstrations do not succeed, will you then -order your followers to fight, physically to fight?
KHOMEINI: We would like to continue the way as it is as much as possible, through the strikes, through the protests, particularly in the Muharram, which will be intensified; but however, if these methods do not work, then we will consider other modes of actions.
MacNEIL: Even if it would mean sending your followers against the guns of the Shah`s army?
KHOMEINI: Of course, my followers, they don`t want to go in front of the Shah`s guns, but however they are demanding what is a right. And in order to get their right sometimes it is necessary to accept the cost of it.
MacNEIL: The Shah has made, in recent weeks and days, very many con cessions towards the demands that you and others have been making. Have you considered it might be the time to compromise, to accept the concessions he`s made, to avoid the deaths of perhaps thousands of your followers?
KHOMEINI: If the Shah tells the truth and he is honest in what he says, then he has to accept and submit to the demands of the people and leave the country and let people to do what they wanted to do with their own affairs. However, he is not telling the truth, and he doesn`t want any compromise; he wants just to deceive people. And later on, when he fortified his position, he will come back and treat people worse than before.
MacNEIL: So there is no alternative to fighting.
KHOMEINI: There is no other solution but to fight.
MacNEIL: The Shah`s government reported yesterday that it had found caches of arms in two Iranian cities.` You, then, have arms, is that true?
KHOMEINI: My followers are preparing themselves for that confrontation, but however, whether the Shah`s government is telling the truth about their discovery or not I cannot confirm it.
MacNEIL: Ayatollah, do you know yourself whether your followers are armed?
KHOMEINI: They have told me that they are getting prepared, and I have given the permission to prepare themselves.
MaCNEIL: Which means getting arms. KHOMEINI: Yes.
MACNEIL: Where do you get the arms from?
KHOMEINI: I don`t know.
MacNEIL: I understand that some of them come from the Palestinian organization, the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Is that true?
KHOMEINI: I don`t have any information on that.
MacNEIL: Would it surprise you?
KHOMEINI: Tell him no, I don`t have any information on that.
MacNEIL: It is true that you are in sympathy with the aims of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, is it not?
KHOMEINI: We are the supporters of any oppressed people. Anyone, anywhere who is oppressed, we will have sympathy with them. The Palestinians are oppressed by the Israelis, and Israel is the oppressor, so we are sympathetic with the Palestinians.
MacNEIL: If the Shah were overthrown and the kind of government you want came to power in Iran, how would Iran`s relations with Israel change?
KHOMEINI: We will cut all relations with Israel; Israel is a transgressor and is our enemy.
MacNEIL: Does that mean that Israel would no longer receive oil from Iran?
KHOMEINI: No. It will not receive the oil.
MacNEIL: No more oil from Iran for Israel.
YAZDI: That`s right.
MacNEIL: How would relations with the United States change if the government you want came to power in Iran?
KHOMEINI: We don`t want to do any wrongdoing or oppression against the Americans, neither will we tolerate any oppression. We will not tolerate what they have done to us, but however, Persian nations with all nations will-be friendly; if they treat us with respect, we will treat them with respect.
MacNEIL: What have the Americans done to you, that you object to?
KHOMEINI: The American government, they have committed the biggest crime by imposing on our people the Pahlavi dynasty. Through this support they have plundered our natural resources, and instead in return they have given us things that do not help our people in any way. They have dominated our army in order to support their cause, to stand against our people. They have made bases in our countries, which are contrary to our independence. With this Shah we don`t have any life in our countries, and this is the American government who support the Shah. The President of the United States, time and over, has called our people names, dirty names, the people that they have raised to achieve their human rights -- he has called us names. Is this Mr. Carter`s logic? The American people, they have put pressure on their president to stop this support. We are a nation under the oppression and the despotic regime of the Shah; all our people, they are crying for freedom, and this freedom has been denied from them.
We don`t have the true independence, we are suffering, and through these mass murders and massacre they have overcome. So these are the issues that we have raised, and these are the issues that our people, they are fighting. We want the liberty of our people, we want to have independence of our country. Is this something that Mr. President Carter should call us dirty? The American people should seriously question their officials, because we don`t like that the whole Moslem nations throughout the world have some round notions concerning the American people and come and make a conclusion that not only the American government but the American people also are the oppressors. If the American people support the cause of the Iranian people for the liberty, we will also be grateful to them.
MacNEIL: There are some $20 billion in American military contracts outstanding in Iran. If your government comes to power, will you cancel those contracts?
KHOMEINI: These contracts are against the national interest of our country. One of the crimes that the Shah has created is to accept these kinds of contracts, which does not have any benefit to our poor people. All these contracts which are against the national interest will not be acknowledged. However, those contracts that are useful to our cause, we will keep them.
MacNEIL: Which ones are useful, and which ones are not?
KHOMEINI: This is not something that I can tell you right away. Some of these contracts, like the using the oil revenues, exporting the oil and using the revenue of that and buying the armaments, that does not have any use for our people; these are definitely harmful against our national interest. Some of the useful contracts can be like the one which will help our agriculture, which will help our industrialization. Definitely they would be useful. But however, those that did not have any benefit we would not accept.
MacNEIL: You mentioned bases. Would you ask American bases to leave Iran?
KHOMEINI: These bases, basically speaking, are against our national interest. However, later on our expertise should come and review and tell` us exactly what they are, what should we do.
MacNEIL: Has anyone in the American government or representing the American government been in touch with you recently?
KHOMEINI: Not at all.
MacNEIL: Is the American government ignoring you?
KHOMEINI: I don`t know.
MacNEIL: It is reported that -- we have been told that you personally have chosen the person who should be nominated as the leader of the next government. Is that so?
KHOMEINI: There are people in my views; I have considered them.
MacNEIL: It is several people, not one? KHOMEINI: Several people.
MacNEIL: Several. Finally, are you expecting that the only way the government you want can come to power will be through considerable bloodshed in Iran, starting in this holy month which begins tomorrow?
KHOMEINI: Not at all. What we`d like to do is to achieve our goals through a peaceful means, not with any bloodshed.
MacNEIL: --Well, Ayatollah Khomeini, that is the end of our time. Thank you very much for joining us today. That`s all for tonight. We`ll be back on Monday night. I`m Robert MacNeil reporting from France. Good night.
- The MacNeil/Lehrer Report
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- Khomeini Interview
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- This episode of The MacNeil/Lehrer Report features an interview with Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious leader who started a movement to overthrow the Shah of Iran. Robert MacNeil speaks with Khomeini in a small French village, where he remains in exile but still issues political communiqus and maintains a large following of like-minded Shiite Muslims.
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