Iran General NewsIran leader denied bid to visit Ground Zero

Iran leader denied bid to visit Ground Zero

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New York Times: A remark by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly that the Police Department was considering a request by Iran that its president visit ground zero set off complaints yesterday before the department corrected itself.
The New York Times

By THOMAS J. LUECK
Published: September 20, 2007

A remark by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly that the Police Department was considering a request by Iran that its president visit ground zero set off complaints yesterday before the department corrected itself.

Late in the day, it said, the request had already been turned down.

Iran asked this month that its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, be permitted to visit ground zero when he attends the opening of the United Nations General Assembly next week.

Paul Browne, the chief spokesman for Commissioner Kelly, said the request — that Mr. Ahmadinejad be allowed to lay a wreath at the former site of the World Trade Center — had been made by Iranian officials earlier this month in a meeting that was also attended by officials of the United States Secret Service and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Mr. Browne said the request was rejected because the Iranians wanted Mr. Ahmadinejad to visit the area of ground zero where construction is under way, but he said that any additional request that he appear near the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack would also be denied out of concerns about security. Although relatives of the victims were allowed to visit the site briefly on the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, members of the public are not allowed into the area.

Mr. Browne’s comments came late yesterday in the form of a clarification of remarks made earlier in the day by Mr. Kelly, who said that a ground zero visit by Mr. Ahmadinejad, a strident critic of the United States and an object of scorn for the Bush administration, was under consideration.

Speaking to reporters at Police Headquarters, Mr. Kelly said that a request had been made by Iran’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, and “we are talking to them right now.” He said that Mr. Ahmadinejad would not be allowed into the section of ground zero where construction is taking place, but that a visit nearby might be allowed.

“It is something we are prepared to handle if in fact it does happen,” he said.

Mr. Browne said later that Commissioner Kelly had been reviewing several security questions involving many heads of state who will be attending the General Assembly session and that he misspoke when asked about the Iranian leader’s visit.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, elected in 2005, has clashed with the Bush administration over his country’s nuclear program and human rights record, and has faced international criticism for calling the Holocaust a “myth.”

He is expected to arrive in New York on Sunday, address the United Nations on Monday, and leave the city on Wednesday morning, Mr. Kelly said. Mr. Ahmadinejad is also scheduled to speak at Columbia University on Monday. Lee C. Bollinger, the president of Columbia, said yesterday that Mr. Ahmadinejad would speak at a World Leaders Forum, but that strict conditions had been set.

The Iranian president has visited Manhattan before, and been greeted by protest.

A year ago, after he was invited to address the same Columbia forum he is scheduled to attend on Monday, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s invitation was withdrawn.

The possibility of a visit to ground zero, as suggested by Mr. Kelly yesterday, provoked a cool response from the White House.

“This is a matter for the City of New York, but ground zero would be an odd place for the president of a country that is a state sponsor of terror to visit,” said Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman.

Before the department’s clarification, the presidential candidates condemned the prospect of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visiting ground zero.

“It is unacceptable,” said Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Under no circumstances,” said Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York. “Ahmadinejad’s shockingly audacious request should be met with a vehement no,” said the former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney.

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