U.S. President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, differ on most foreign policy issues, including on how to deal with Iran.
But former Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told RFE/RL in an exclusive interview that regardless of which man wins the November 3 presidential election, Washington’s policies are unlikely to change.
“It doesn’t matter to me who wins. Why would it matter who gets the [most] votes? This is an internal U.S. issue. What is important are U.S. international policies that don’t change under different presidents. We’re seeking a change in those policies,” Ahmadinejad said via Skype from Tehran.
But one substantial difference between the two candidates -- Trump withdrew the United States from the landmark 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran while imposing crippling economic sanctions on it; by contrast, Biden has said he would have the United States rejoin the nuclear deal if Iran returns to compliance – doesn't matter to Ahmadinejad in the big picture.
The former president's comments are similar to those given by current Iranian officials, who are unlikely to publicly express a preference in the U.S. presidential vote, in which Tehran has very high stakes.
Ahmadinejad spoke to RFE/RL on September 16 in a wide-ranging interview during which he remained evasive, defensive, and dismissive about issues from a 2005-13 reign as president that was marked by domestic and international tension, controversial and undiplomatic remarks, and a brutal crackdown on those protesting his disputed 2009 reelection.
More recently, he experienced a major fall from grace in Iran for standing up to the country’s highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
I think you need to rectify your information about Iran and update yourself."
But the notoriously combative and polarizing Ahmadinejad, now 63, said he doesn’t regret anything he said or did during his two terms as leader.
“Why should I have regrets? Everything was done based on principles and plans for the [progress] of Iran and for peace and friendship in the world,” he said.
Earlier this year, the former hard-liner -- who in recent months appears to be working hard to raise his profile -- sent a letter to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman offering to act as a mediator to try and resolve the brutal war in Yemen that pits Saudi-backed forces against the Huthi-led opposition, supported by Iran.
It is one of several letters Ahmadinejad has sent to world leaders in recent years. He sent a similar request on Yemen to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in July in an effort to be tapped as a peacemaker.
Ahmadinejad told RFE/RL that some of bin Salman's entourage had reacted to the letter, adding that he’s "waiting for others to review the offer and respond."
In the letter, Ahmadinejad said he "feels very sorry" when he hears about reports of trouble and hardship around the world, particularly in Yemen.
Asked whether he also feels bad about the reports of abuse and violence in Iran, where in November several hundred people were killed in a state crackdown on anti-government protests or, in 2009, when dozens were killed, arrested, and many tortured for protesting his reelection, Ahmadinejad said: “One should be upset when a human being in any part of the world faces trouble.”
When pressed about why he didn’t raise any objection to the state repression that took place during his presidency, he claimed that he did.
“I did. It’s been documented. [But] 11 years have passed, [and] we have to think about today’s problems,” he said.
Reminded that, during his presidency, many students, activists, and others were sent to jail, Ahmadinejad went on the offensive.
“I think you need to rectify your information about Iran and update yourself,” he said.
When asked about the house arrests of his 2009 election rivals -- Mir Hossein Musavi, his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi, all of whom raised questions about his disputed 2009 reelection and condemned postelection rights abuses -- Ahmadinejad said vaguely that he opposes “arrest, imprisonment, and restrictions for any human being on the planet. I’ve said it many times.”
The three have been under house arrest since February 2011 amid reports they are suffering various health problems.
Ahmadinejad also denied having called those who protested against him in 2009 “dirt and dust,” saying that term has been distorted and he used it only to refer to those who had damaged public property.
The former president added that he hasn’t thought about running in the 2021 presidential election, while also dismissing reports that he’s been trying to meet with Khamenei and lobbying the powerful Guardians Council to allow him to run as “the media’s own views,” which, he said, are published without any proof.
The council, which vets all election candidates, prevented Ahmadinejad from running for president in 2017.
“For now, I’m thinking about today’s issues, today’s conditions, the world, the region -- there are important issues before us,” he said.
He also talked about his Twitter account, where his English-only tweets have given him a small cult following, as he has even been known to comment on American culture, weighing in on the death of NBA star Kobe Bryant and once quoting legendary American rapper Tupac Shakur.
Ahmadinejad said he posts tweets after discussing world and regional issues and other matters with “my friends.”
“I have contacts with people in different parts of the world. I share their issues, their joy, and pains. I think communications is the key in today’s world,” he said.
Ahmadinejad didn’t say which anti-filtering tools he uses to access Twitter, which is banned in Iran despite being used by senior officials.
“Those who filter it also sell proxy tools [to get around the ban],” he said about the blocking of Twitter in the country, which first began during his presidency.
Ahmadinejad also denied having any knowledge of the state intimidation of journalists working outside the country, including RFE/RL Radio Farda reporters, a number of which were directly threatened or had family members harassed during Ahmadinejad’s presidency.
“I’m not aware of the claim you’re making,” he said.