Iranian president banned from laying wreath at Ground Zero
A request by Iran's president to lay a wreath at the World Trade Center site next week has been turned down by police and blasted by a U.S. diplomat as an attempt to turn Ground Zero into a "photo op."
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is to arrive Sunday in New York City to address the United Nations General Assembly, asked the city and the U.S. Secret Service earlier this month for permission to visit the site of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The request to enter the fenced-in site was rejected because of the construction going on there, and because ofsecurity concerns, New York police spokesman Paul Browne said Wednesday.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said a visit to Ground Zero "is a matter for the City of New York, but it seems more than odd that the president of a country that is a state sponsor of terror would visit Ground Zero."
Mohammad Mir Ali Mohammadi, spokesman for the Iranian mission to the UN, said he was not notified officially that Ahmadinejad would not be allowed at the site, but said it was unfortunate.
"President Ahmadinejad intended to lay a wreath at the site of Ground Zero in order to pay tribute to the victims of the terrorists' attack of Sept. 11, 2001. We are hopeful that we can still work something out with the police department," he said.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Wednesday the city was considering Ahmadinejad's application, prompting an outcry from politicians and families of Sept. 11 victims.
Browne later said that Kelly had misspoken.
Port Authority and police representatives decided at a meeting that no dignitaries would be allowed inside the site, said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman.
The United States suspects Iranian authorities of seeking nuclear weapons, although Iran insists its uranium enrichment program and other atomic activities are aimed only at producing energy.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, told reporters that the United States would not support Iran's attempt to use the site for a "photo op."
"Iran can demonstrate its seriousness about concern with regard to terrorism by taking concrete actions," such as suspending its uranium enrichment program and dropping support for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Khalilzad said.
It wasn't clear whether Ahmadinejad wanted to descend to the base of theWorld TradeCentresite, where the fallen twin towers stood, or to lay a wreath on a public sidewalk outside the site.
Iran and the U.S. have not had diplomatic relations since 1979, when Washington cut its ties with Tehran after Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.Ahmadinejad has said his country wants peace and friendship with the United States, despite mounting tensions between the two countries.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has denied a visa to Iran's UN ambassador in Geneva because he was allegedly involved in the 1979 U.S. hostage crisis, a UN official said Wednesday.
Ambassador Ali Reza Moaiyeri wanted the visa to attend next week's General Assembly meeting, the UN officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because there had been no public announcement of the denied visa.