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 Wednesday.
The Iranian president, who is arriving Sunday to address the United Nations' General Assembly, had asked the police department, the U.S. Secret Service and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey earlier this month for permission to visit the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, police spokesman Paul Browne said.
The police and Secret Service provide security to visiting heads of state.
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.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said earlier Wednesday that the city was considering Ahmadinejad's request, but Browne said about two hours later that Kelly had misspoke.
The Port Authority, which owns the trade center site and is the only agency that could grant Ahmadinejad permission to go inside, said it never received such a request, contradicting the police statement.
"We have not been asked to accommodate the president of Iran," Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said Wednesday.
It wasn't clear whether Ahmadinejad wanted to descend to the base of the trade center site, where the fallen twin towers stood, or lay a wreath on a public sidewalk outside the site. Telephone calls to the Iranian Mission to the United Nations were not immediately returned.
Kelly earlier said he did not know why Ahmadinejad expressed interest in the site. "I am not sure we have the rationale behind it," he said.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Wednesday that an Ahmadinejad 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."
Iran and the U.S. have not had diplomatic relations since Washington cut its ties with Tehran after Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. 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, despite mounting tensions between the two countries.