CBS's Pelley: Ahmadinejad 'Friendly,' 'Incorruptible' and 'Modest'

Scott Pelley conducted a very tough interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad which aired on Sunday's 60 Minutes, but on Monday’s Early Show Pelley was very generous in his personal assessment of the man. Host Harry Smith and Pelley agreed that Ahmadinejad is "crazy like a fox" while Pelley also hailed Ahmadinejad as "incorruptible" and "modest." Pelley contended the dictator, who denies the Holocaust, wants Israel destroyed and is causing the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, is a lot smarter than Westerners believe and is even a "friendly" guy:

The important thing, I think, Harry, to understand, he's described in the West as a madman, crazy, that's not the case. I found him to be as many politicians are, very engaging, very friendly, he's clearly not mad, he's sane. In fact, he's very wily I would tell you.

Maybe Ahmadinejad should announce his candidacy for 2008?

In perhaps the clearest attempt to soften the ruthless image of the Iranian leader, Pelley was awed by Ahmadinejad's down-to-earth nature:

He is genuinely religious, genuinely humble, there are no fancy clothes, fancy cars, he lives with his wife and his three children. They live in an apartment in Tehran. He is a very modest man and said to be absolutely incorruptible as well, he's a fascinating character.

Clearly a model of virtue.

When asked by Smith at the end of the segment whether Ahmadinejad was "dangerous," Pelley could not bring himself to make such a judgement but simply stated that: "The policies of Iran are dangerous and I think he's capable of pursuing those policies."

Below is the transcript of the entire September 24 Early Show segment with Pelley:

Harry Smith: We now turn to Scott Pelley of "60 Minutes" Scott is with us, just back from Iran. What day last week did you interview?

Scott Pelley: I interviewed Ahmadinejad on Thursday Harry. I had to think for just a minute.

Smith: Yeah, all the traveling back and forth and everything else. Two very important questions that you posed to him that he did his best to sort of obfuscate and dance around, and the most important I think, right off the top, for so many Americans, is we've seen these IEDs, these specialized IEDs that have been used against U.S. forces. You asked him flat out about Iranian weapons being used in the War in Iraq and this is what he had to say.

Pelley, on 60 Minutes: Mr. President, can you tell me that you are not sending weapons to Iraq? Very simple, very directly?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, through translator: "We don't need to do that. We are very much opposed to war and insecurity in inside Iraq-

Pelley: Is that no, sir?

Ahmadinejad: It's very clear the situation. The insecurity in Iraq is detrimental to our interests.

Smith, back on The Early Show: How do you walk -- do you -- what was the answer? From -- What was the answer that you understood him to make?

Pelley: The answer that I understood him to make was that, no, he was not sending arms into Iraq, but as we also say in the interview, those denials just aren't credible anymore. The Iranian weapons are being confiscated by U.S. forces in Iraq. We know they're there.

Smith: Right, so -- it's interesting, because we know they're there, we know there's a section of the Iranian army that seems to be supplying them. Is he saying I'm not in charge of that or I'm not connected to that, or?

Pelley: No, what he means to say is that they're not doing that. He means to flatly deny that. But of course as I say, those denials just aren't credible. And I put that to him.

Smith: Yeah, really good interview last night. The other thing that I think most Americans are concerned about is this whole notion of him trying to develop a nuclear weapon. And that, you -- listen, you earned your money in this interview let's take a look at his answer to that.

Ahmadinejad, on 60 Minutes: What are you driving at?

Pelley: Simply that, sir. Is it the goal of your government, the goal of this nation, to build a nuclear weapon?

Ahmadinejad: Do you think that the nuclear technology is only limited in a bomb? You can only build a bomb with that?

Pelley: But when I asked you a question as direct as 'will you pledge not to test a nuclear weapon,' you dance all around the question, you never say yes, you never say no.

Ahmadinejad: Thank you for that. You are like a C.I.A. investigator.

Pelley: I am just a reporter. I am a simple average American reporter.

Smith, back on The Early Show: No, he thought you were a CIA agent. What are we to take away from this? Because this country is so close to Iraq, it has so much influence over so much of the Iraqi government, as we know it right now. We look at this interview, what are we to take away from -- what are we to understand who this man is?

Pelley: The important thing, I think, Harry, to understand, he's described in the West as a madman, crazy, that's not the case. I found him to be as many politicians are, very engaging, very friendly, he's clearly not mad, he's sane. In fact, he's very wily I would tell you-

Smith: Crazy like a fox.

Pelley: Crazy like a fox perhaps. But he's a very, very wily character. Fascinating man in background. He is genuinely religious, genuinely humble, there are no fancy clothes, fancy cars, he lives with his wife and his three children. They live in an apartment in Tehran. He is a very modest man and said to be absolutely incorruptible as well, he's a fascinating character.

Smith: Dangerous?

Pelley: The policies of Iran are dangerous and I think he's capable of pursuing those policies.

Smith: Scott Pelley, great job last night. Thanks for coming in this morning. Appreciate it.

Pelley: Thank you.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC