NEW YORK – Columbia University planned Friday to go forward with a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while the city mobilized security to protect him from protests during his New York visit.
Ahmadinejad, who is to arrive in New York on Sunday to address the United Nations General Assembly, is scheduled to speak at a Columbia question-and-answer forum on Monday. His request to lay a wreath at the World Trade Center site was denied and condemned by Sept. 11 family members and politicians.
Several Columbia students — even some who planned to rally against him — said they supported his appearance.
"He's a leader of a large nation and what he says is important, even if it's wrong," said Dmitry Zakharov, 25, a Columbia University graduate student.
Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust "a myth" and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." The White House has said Iran sponsors terrorism and is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Columbia canceled a planned visit by the Iranian president last year, citing security and logistical reasons.
Rallies are planned outside the university building where he was to speak and at the United Nations, prompting city and state officials to prepare a security detail for him. The city police and the U.S. Secret Service are charged with protecting the Iranian leader along with dozens of heads of state arriving for the assembly.
No threats have been called in, police Detective Joseph Cavitolo said Friday.
The Iranian mission has not disclosed Ahmadinejad's specific itinerary. Ahmadinejad told CBS' "60 Minutes" that he would not stop at the World Trade Center site after his request to lay a wreath at the base of the twin towers was denied.
Leaders voiced mixed opinions about his Columbia appearance.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he wouldn't go listen to him. "I think he's said enough that I find disgusting and despicable," he said.
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said in a statement that "anyone who supports terror, pledges to destroy a sovereign nation (Israel), punishes by death anyone who 'insults' religion ... denies the Holocaust and thumbs his nose at the international community, has no legitimate role to play at a university."
The governor took a different approach.
"His comments defy logic, history and reason," Gov. Eliot Spitzer said. "He is someone whose views we scorn. But that said, he is here in the state and will be protected by the NYPD and state police and everyone else."