By PAT MILTON, AP
NEW YORK — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked permission to lay a wreath at the World Trade Center site when he comes to New York City next week, but the request was denied, a police official said.
The U.S. also has denied a visa to Iran’s United Nations ambassador in Geneva to attend next week’s General Assembly meeting because he was involved in the 1979 U.S. hostage crisis, a U.N. official said Wednesday.
Ahmadinejad, who is arriving Sunday to address the United Nations’ General Assembly, had asked this month for permission to visit the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, police spokesman Paul Browne said Wednesday.
The request to enter the fenced-in site was rejected because of ongoing construction there, Browne said.
“Requests for the Iranian president to visit the immediate area would also be opposed by the NYPD on security grounds,” Browne said.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, told reporters Wednesday 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 dropping support for Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and suspending their uranium enrichment program, Khalilzad said.
Browne said Ahmadinejad had asked permission from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, U.S. Secret Service and police department. The police and the Secret Service provide security to visiting heads of state.
The Port Authority, which owns the trade center site and is the only agency that could grant permission to go inside, said it attended a meeting with police regarding dignitary visits, not specifically about Ahmadinejad. At that meeting, it was determined that no dignitaries would be allowed inside the site due to ongoing construction, said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman.
It was not clear whether Ahmadinejad wanted to descend to the base of the trade center site, where the twin towers once stood, or lay a wreath on a public sidewalk outside the site.
Mohammad Mir Ali Mohammadi, spokesman for the Iranian mission to the U.N., said he was not notified offically 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.
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.”
It was not clear what role Ali Reza Moaiyeri, Iran’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva, played in the 1979 hostage crisis. The U.N. official who said his visa was denied spoke on condition of anonymity because there has been no public announcement.
Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said, “although we don’t comment about specific visa cases we certainly would not allow a person into the United States who has taken Americans as hostages.”
Iran and the U.S. have not had diplomatic relations since Washington cut its ties with Tehran during the hostage crisis in which U.S. diplomats were held hostage for 444 days. The Bush administration has accused Iran of arming Shiite Muslim militants in Iraq and seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
In a television appearance earlier this week, Ahmadinejad said his country wanted peace and friendship with the United States, as tensions continued to mount between the two countries.
The deputy commander of Iran’s air force said Wednesday that plans have been drawn up to bomb Israel if the Jewish state attacks Iran, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.
The United States and its key European allies are calling for a new round of U.N. sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program, but Russia has warned against the use of force in Iran and opposes new sanctions to punish Tehran.