Outrage over Iranian president's NYC visit
(New York - WABC, September 20, 2007) (WABC) -- Columbia University is being urged to withdraw its invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak on campus.
Ahmadinejad is scheduled to arrive September 24 to speak to the U.N. General Assembly, as the Security Council decides whether to increase sanctions against Iran for its uranium enrichment program.
The Iranian leader will then speak at the school. Columbia spokesman Robert Hornsby said there was no plan to cancel the appearance.
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, however, has asked the school to withdraw the invitation.
"The idea of Ahmadinejad as an honored guest anywhere in our city is offensive to all New Yorkers. ... Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier, here for one reason - to spread his hate-mongering vitriol on the world stage," Quinn wrote.
Ahmadinejad's visit has already sparked outrage throughout the city after the Iranian leader planned to visit Ground Zero to lay a wreath. But now he may have had a change of heart.
The Iranian president, in an interview to air Sunday on "60 Minutes," indicated he would not press the issue. "I won't insist," Ahmadinejad said, although he expressed disbelief that the visit would offend Americans.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Wednesday the proposed ground zero visit by Ahmadinejad trip during next week's U.N. General Assembly was a dead issue. The Iranian president, who is under Secret Service protection while in the country, was told to steer clear of lower Manhattan.
"We have communicated our concerns to the Iranian Mission. ... I am sure they will abide by our statement ... Our position is that he will not be permitted to go," Kelly said.
But now the issue has focused on Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia University.
In 2006, the university dropped plans for a speech by Ahmadinejad due to security and logistical problems. The decision came after a Jewish activist group blasted the university over its invitation to the Iranian president, who has called the Holocaust a "myth" and said Israel should be destroyed.
The Jewish Defense Organization issued a call for cancellation of this year's speaking date, describing Ahmadinejad as "the Hitler of Iraq."
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, in announcing the appearance, said Ahmadinejad has agreed to answer questions on Israel and the Holocaust. He described the event as part of "Columbia's long-standing tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate, especially on global issues."
That was not enough to satisfy Quinn, arguing "He can say whatever he wants on any street corner, but should not be given center stage at one of New York's most prestigious centers of high education."
Bush, Giuliani and Clinton respond
Bush also defended the decision of NYC officials to deny Ahmadinejad permission to lay a wreath next week at ground zero.
"I can understand why they would not want somebody that's running a country that's a state sponsor of terror down there at the site," the president said.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani released the following statement on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
"Under no circumstances should the NYPD or any other American authority assist President Ahmadinejad in visiting Ground Zero. This is a man who has made threats against America and Israel, is harboring bin Laden's son and other al-Qaeda leaders, is shipping arms to Iraqi insurgents and is pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. Assisting Ahmadinejad in touring Ground Zero - hallowed ground for all Americans - is outrageous."
Senator Hillary Clinton released the following statement:
"It is unacceptable for Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who refuses to renounce and end his own country's support of terrorism, to visit the site of the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil in our nation's history."
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