Iran General NewsPresident of Iran says he’ll avoid Ground Zero

President of Iran says he’ll avoid Ground Zero

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New York Times: Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said yesterday that he would not allow Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, anywhere near ground zero during his trip to New York next week, but the chance of a diplomatic showdown appeared to lessen when Mr. Ahmadinejad said he would abide by the decision. The New York Times

By THOMAS J. LUECK and KAREN W. ARENSON
Published: September 21, 2007

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said yesterday that he would not allow Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, anywhere near ground zero during his trip to New York next week, but the chance of a diplomatic showdown appeared to lessen when Mr. Ahmadinejad said he would abide by the decision.

The focus of protest over the visit by Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is to attend the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly, then shifted uptown to Columbia University, where he is scheduled to participate in a World Leaders Forum on Monday.

The university, while standing behind its invitation, came under harsh criticism yesterday from presidential candidates, the New York City Council, Jewish organizations and others for giving Mr. Ahmadinejad a public stage.

The remarks by Mr. Kelly, who spoke to reporters in Manhattan, and Mr. Ahmadinejad, who was interviewed in Tehran for a “60 Minutes” segment to be broadcast on Sunday, came amid widespread protest, which erupted Wednesday when Mr. Kelly said a ground zero visit by the Iranian president was being considered.

Hours later, the Police Department said Mr. Kelly had misspoken, but his remarks had already reverberated across the Internet.

“Our position is that President Ahmadinejad will not be permitted to go to ground zero,” Mr. Kelly said yesterday. He said that the area designated as off limits would be “the general vicinity of the World Trade Center,” and that the restriction had been imposed to protect public safety.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, parts of which were released late yesterday by CBS, Mr. Ahmadinejad said a visit to ground zero “was included in my program.” He added, “If we have the time and the conditions are conducive, I will try to do that.”

But when asked to respond to Mr. Kelly’s remarks, the Iranian president said: “Well, over there, local officials need to make the necessary coordinations. If they don’t do that, I won’t insist.” He also said he doubted that most Americans would be insulted if he visited the site of the 9/11 terror attack.

Iranian officials originally asked that Mr. Ahmadinejad be allowed to visit the area of ground zero where construction is under way. Although relatives of the Sept. 11 victims were allowed to visit the site briefly on the sixth anniversary of the attack, members of the public are not allowed into the area.

Columbia officials faced harsh criticism yesterday from two Republican presidential hopefuls, Senator John McCain and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn urged the university to withdraw the invitation, saying that Mr. Ahmadinejad was “here for one reason: to spread his hate-mongering vitriol on the world stage.”

But William V. Campbell, chairman of the Columbia board of trustees, defended the decision to have the Iranian president appear. “The freedom of our deans and faculty to create challenging and even controversial programs for our students is essential and sets a powerful example to the world about the strength of American universities and society,” he said.

The political volatility of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York, in which he will be among hundreds of world leaders and diplomats attending the General Assembly session, was underscored yesterday by President Bush at a news conference. The Iranian president is a strident critic of the United States, has called the Holocaust a myth and has been the subject of repeated scorn by the Bush administration.

“My thoughts are that the local police will make the proper decision,” Mr. Bush said, “and that if they decide for him not to go — like it looks like they have — I can understand why they would not want somebody who is running a country who is a state sponsor of terror down there at the site.”

Speculation has been rife that Mr. Ahmadinejad might ignore police instructions and try to make his way to ground zero, provoking a confrontation that would most likely be seen in news broadcasts around the world.

Although the United States has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980, Mr. Ahmadinejad is allowed under international law and diplomatic protocols to travel freely within a 25-mile radius of Columbus Circle.

Mr. Kelly declined yesterday to say how the police would respond if Mr. Ahmadinejad ignored police instructions and traveled to the area of the World Trade Center. “I don’t want to go into hypotheticals,” Mr. Kelly said. But he added, “We’ve communicated our concerns to the Iranian mission,” and said he was “sure they’ll abide by our statement.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a news conference in Chinatown yesterday that a visit by the Iranian president to ground zero would be “an outrage.” He added, “We don’t expect him to go.”

The only doubts about Mr. Ahmadinejad’s scheduled appearance at Columbia came yesterday from his government. Mohammad Mohammadi, a spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations, said that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s schedule in New York was “still under discussion” and that his appearance at the Columbia forum could be canceled.

Columbia said yesterday that it was expecting a full house of 600 for the Monday forum, and was looking for ways to accommodate a larger audience.

Columbia said Lee C. Bollinger, its president, would introduce the event, which is part of the university’s World Leaders Forum, and challenge some of the Iranian president’s statements, including his call for the destruction of the state of Israel.

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