Published September 24, 2007
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a low-key entrance into New York City on Sunday evening amid extremely tight security as he faces a firestorm of controversy surrounding his visit to address the U.N. General Assembly and speak to students and teachers during a forum at Columbia University.
Ahmadinejad said the American people have been denied "correct information," and his visit will give them a chance to hear a different voice, the official IRNA news agency reported.
"The United States is a big and important country with a population of 300 million. Due to certain issues, the American people in the past years have been denied correct and clear information about global developments and are eager to hear different opinions," Ahmadinejad was quoted by IRNA as saying.
Ahmadinejad, who has called the Holocaust "a myth," encouraged the destruction of Israel and supported terrorists in Iraq, will address the United Nations General Assembly and a Columbia University forum but will not be allowed to tour Ground Zero.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini appeared dismayed that Ahmadinejad's request to visit the site of the World Trade Center attacks was rejected.
"What kind of damage will the U.S. face [by Ahmadinejad visiting the site]," Hosseini told reporters at his weekly press conference Sunday.
The visit also comes as the United States and its European allies continue to urge Iran to stop uranium enrichment. The White House wants to set more economic sanctions against Iran, which it calls a sponsor of terrorism, that is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies those charges.
In a "60 minutes" interview Sunday evening, Ahmadinejad said, "Well, you have to appreciate we don't need a nuclear bomb. We don't need that. What need do we have for a bomb?"
"In political relations right now, the nuclear bomb is of no use. If it was useful it would have prevented the downfall of the Soviet Union."
He also said, "It's wrong to think that Iran and the U.S. are walking toward war. Who says so? Why should we go to war? There is no war in the offing."
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad dismissed the threat of additional economic sanctions Saturday, saying it will not stop his country's technological progress.
"Those (countries) who assume that decaying methods such as psychological war, political propaganda and the so-called economic sanctions would work and prevent Iran's fast drive toward progress are mistaken," Ahmadinejad said at a parade featuring fighter jets.
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city is prepared to respond to busloads of protesters with additional police officers and Secret Service agents.
"We will provide security every place we think it is necessary. That's our job, and we will do that," Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show.
Some students and activist groups blasted Columbia University's decision to allow Ahmadinejad on campus, but the Ivy League school plans to stick to the schedule.
Hosseini said there "are efforts to cancel" the Columbia speech, but the Iranian government is continuing to pursue the program. He did not elaborate other than saying that a lot of pressure was being placed on the program's sponsors.
A student group opposing his speech at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs plans to form a human chain at Ground Zero where Ahmadinejad wanted to lay a wreath. One student called the visit a "dangerous opportunity for him."
"I really don't know what President Bollinger was thinking to give him a bully pulpit to discuss his detestable creed," said Ari Gardner, 22, a member of Hillel, a Jewish student group.
Other efforts to condemn Ahmadinejad's visit include a full-page ad set to run Monday in The New York Times by Freedom's Watch. The ad calls him a "terrorist" and blasts Columbia's decision to allow him to speak.
"People who support killing Americans are welcome. But the military that defends them is not," says the new ad by Freedom's Watch.
Ahmadinejad is using America with his visit as a propaganda tool, Brad Blakeman of Freedom's Watch told FOX News.
"He's using America, he's using our democracy as a tool against us," Blakeman said.
Ahmadinejad's visit to New York is also being debated back home. Some in Iran think his trip is a publicity stunt that hurts Iran's image in the world.
Political analyst Iraj Jamshidi said Ahmadinejad looks at the General Assembly as a publicity forum simply to surprise world leaders with his unpredictable harsh rhetoric.
"The world has not welcomed Ahmadinejad's hardline approach. His previous address to the Assembly didn't resolve any of Iran's foreign policy issues. And no one expects anything better this time," he said.
Independent Iranian analysts also criticized Ahmadinejad for making the trip saying his anti-Western rhetoric makes life for Iran more difficult.
"Many experts believe Ahmadinejad's previous two visits brought no achievement ... rather, it heightened tensions," the reformist daily Etemad-e-Melli, or National Confidence, said in an editorial Sunday.
But conservative lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi said it was a good chance for Iran to air its position.
"This trip gives the president a good chance to meet world leaders and inform them of Iran's rightful position," IRNA quoted Boroujerdi as saying.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran were heightened in recent days after U.S. forces detained an Iranian official in northern Iraq.
Washington has said it is addressing the Iran situation diplomatically, rather than militarily, but U.S. officials also say that all options are open. The commander of the U.S. military forces in the Middle East said he does not believe tension will lead to war.
"This constant drum beat of conflict is what strikes me, which is not helpful and not useful," Adm. William Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, said in an interview with Al-Jazeera television, which made a partial transcript available Sunday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.