CBS's Steve Kroft in Iran: 'We Didn't Talk to Anybody Who Believes They're Building a Bomb'

Returning from a trip to Iran for an upcoming 60 Minutes story on the authoritarian regime, correspondent Steve Kroft appeared on Friday's CBS This Morning to preview the piece and made an observation about the nation's nuclear weapons program: "...they're convinced that they're not building a bomb. They don't believe – we didn't talk to anybody who believes they're building a bomb. That the supreme leader has dictated that it's against their religion, you know, and that a fatwa was issued. It's on his website." [Listen to the audio]

At the top of the exchange, Kroft praised Iranian President Rouhani and his government as "pragmatists" who wanted to "stop all the bad talk" and try to "get a few things accomplished."

In 2007, CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley – then a 60 Minutes correspondent – sat down for an interview with Rouhani's predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and hailed the dictator as "incorruptible" and "modest."

Later in the Friday This Morning segment, co-host Gayle King wondered if Kroft ever felt "afraid" while in the enemy country, he replied: "No, it's not like that. It's like going to – you know, it's just a big international capital. We saw no – we saw two military people. No real policeman, no guns, no nothing like – it was very sort of quiet."

Kroft even touted Iran's welfare system: "And very little poverty....they have a very big safety net in that country. So – and the government has been giving people subsidies to sort of help them through these difficult times. Now, it's costing them, though."

Co-host Charlie Rose asked: "Attitude towards America?" Kroft proclaimed:

Attitudes toward westerners, I think they have – they're very friendly towards them. I think that they have a – they like them. If you're talking about the foreign policy of the United States, they'll tell you, "Then we have big problems with it. But we have nothing against Americans. We want to see westerners." I think that they're sick and tired of the isolation and they really do not want a war.

Here is a transcript of the May 16 segment:

7:34 AM ET

(...)

CHARLIE ROSE: Steve Kroft is here. Good morning.

STEVE KROFT: Charlie, Norah, Gayle.

ROSE: This sounds like a fascinating trip. Sum up for us what you found in terms of the mood, attitude, feeling of the Iranian people.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Inside Iran; 60 Minutes Exposes A Nation at A Crossroads]

KROFT: Well, I think the tone has changed, that's the biggest thing. When you look back just a little over a year ago and you had Ahmadinejad, and now you've got Rouhani and the people around him who are much different, they're – they're sort of pragmatists. And you get the sense that, "Let's stop all the bad talk. Let's just see if we can get a few things accomplished here."

ROSE: And on a nuclear deal?

KROFT: I think that they're hopeful, you know, they're optimistic that something will happen. I don't think they – one of things that I found really interesting was that they think that they're – they're convinced that they're not building a bomb. They don't believe – we didn't talk to anybody who believes they're building a bomb. That the supreme leader has dictated that it's against their religion, you know, and that a fatwa was issued. It's on his website. "Why don't they believe us?"

So it's – they feel like they've already made the concessions, and I think that they're – what they want – I think the sanctions have hurt, but they're prepared to sacrifice a lot more if they have to, to keep the nuclear program, the peaceful – what they call peaceful nuclear program – because they don't want it dictated to them.

NORAH O'DONNELL: And that's so key because the point that the Obama administration has made repeatedly is that these are crippling, unprecedented sanctions. That the street will rise up, that the regime will be forced to negotiate an end to this because it's hurt them so much economically, but you didn't really see too much of that, did you?

KROFT: No, no, no. No, the economy looked – the economy looks – I compare it to what people in this country were going through back in 2008 and 2009 at sort of the depths of the financial crisis. And people – there's uncomfort, people unhappy the inflation rate's about 30%. But they're not starving. You know, there's gasoline, there are cars driving all over the place. You don't see any of the – and the shops and bazaars are filled with people.

GAYLE KING: I would like to know what it was like there because I think for most Americans, what we know about Iran is what we see on TV. Even the word "regime" is a scary word to a lot of people. You think terrorism, you think frightening. Were you afraid? Did you ever feel in danger?

KROFT: No, it's not like that. It's like going to – you know, it's just a big international capital. We saw no – we saw two military people.

KING: That's it?

KROFT: No real policeman, no guns, no nothing like – it was very sort of quiet. And very little poverty. One of things that – you talked about the effect – they have a very big safety net in that country. So – and the government has been giving people subsidies to sort of help them through these difficult times. Now, it's costing them, though.

ROSE: Attitude towards America?

KROFT: Attitudes toward westerners, I think they have – they're very friendly towards them. I think that they have a – they like them. If you're talking about the foreign policy of the United States, they'll tell you, "Then we have big problems with it. But we have nothing against Americans. We want to see westerners." I think that they're sick and tired of the isolation and they really do not want a war.

ROSE: Good piece.

KING: I'm looking forward to it. I wonder if they knew you were 60 Minutes or did they know you were Steve Kroft?

KROFT: No, the big thing to them was, "You're an American? What are you doing here?"

ROSE: We were looking for an American, we found one.

KING: That's what they look like.

ROSE: Alright, you can see Steve's full report, including a revealing conversation with President Rouhani's top aide, on 60 Minutes. That's Sunday night, here on CBS.

O'DONNELL: Looking forward to that.

— Kyle Drennen is News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.