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Iran's foreign minister on the Hamas attack and the war that has followed

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Some of the world's diplomats gave speeches before the United Nations General Assembly today. The Palestinian ambassador urged the U.N. to, quote, "stop the killing," by which he meant Israel's bombardment of Gaza. An Israeli diplomat said the war has, quote, "nothing to do" with the Palestinians and should simply focus on Hamas, which attacked Israel on October 7. Other diplomats in the room included the foreign minister of Iran, a country which is a powerful supporter of Hamas. Afterwards, the foreign minister spoke with our colleague Steve Inskeep, who is in New York and joins us now. Hi, Steve.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Hi there, Ailsa.

CHANG: So can you just first remind listeners how Iran is connected with Hamas?

INSKEEP: Yeah. All you have to do is go to State Department annual reports on terrorism, and they have documented over the years how Iran has provided support to Hamas, helping to arm and even train it. And after the October 7 attack, Hamas spokesmen talking to the media publicized Iran's role, saying that Hamas did the attack. They decided to do it, but Iran provided, quote, "help and support." Iran has claimed it wasn't involved, but they did openly celebrate the attack. Now, when I spoke with the foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, he said Iran provides only political support to Hamas, which is their official line. But when I pushed back - I said, really? You deny providing training, coordination, money or weapons? He said, I'm just talking about right now, not really talking about the many, many years of the past.

CHANG: Well, I understand that when the foreign minister was speaking before the U.N., he criticized Israel's response to the Hamas attack. Did he offer any insight on how Iran might respond at this point?

INSKEEP: This was my biggest question, Ailsa, and one of the biggest reasons to be talking with the foreign minister of Iran right now. What does Iran intend to do? What does it intend to support in terms of its allies? There is a risk of a wider war, which would involve groups like Hezbollah, which is, of course, along Israel's northern border in Lebanon - another group that Iran has supported over the years. And there's already exchanges of fire between Hezbollah and Israel in recent days. So the question is, does that escalate from these somewhat symbolic attacks to a full-blown war? And here's what the foreign minister said about that.

HOSSEIN AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN: (Through interpreter) They have their finger on the trigger - you know, much more powerful and deeper than you have already witnessed. Therefore, I believe that if the situation continues, and if women and children and the civilians are killed - still killed in Gaza and in the West Bank, then anything would be possible.

INSKEEP: So not a prediction there, Ailsa, but a warning as Israel prepares for what's considered a likely ground assault in Gaza.

CHANG: Right - certainly a warning. Well, would it be in Iran's interest to widen the war?

INSKEEP: It's hard to see how because Israel has struck Iran. It's a sort of undeclared war that's been going on for many years. Israel has a lot of power here, but Iran has posed itself as an ideological leader against Israel, so there's different pressures at play.

CHANG: I'm curious, Steve. Did the foreign minister acknowledge in any way today the fact that this attack on October 7 targeted civilians?

INSKEEP: He never mentioned it in his speech at the United Nations. I asked him about Israeli videos that I have seen, that many journalists have seen, showing Hamas fighters targeting civilians, targeting people who are clearly unarmed. You even see the bodies of unarmed people. The foreign minister replied only that the Israeli response to all of that is disproportionate.

CHANG: That is NPR's Steve Inskeep talking about his interview with Iran's foreign minister. You can hear the full conversation tomorrow on Morning Edition. Thank you so much, Steve.

INSKEEP: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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