Visit by Iran's Leader Stirs Emotions in New York Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is due to visit the U.N. Monday, but he will get a cool reception in New York. He has been rebuffed in his bid to lay a wreath at the World Trade Center site. Columbia University is being criticized for asking him to speak.
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Visit by Iran's Leader Stirs Emotions in New York

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Visit by Iran's Leader Stirs Emotions in New York

Visit by Iran's Leader Stirs Emotions in New York

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

When it comes to world leaders, some are more welcomed than others - at least in New York City. The United Nations General Assembly takes place next week. And the city of New York has denied a request by the president of Iran to lay a wreath at Ground Zero. Protest groups are also trying to stop Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from speaking to students at Columbia University.

NPR's Robert Smith reports.

ROBERT SMITH: The old joke in New York is that the city's mayor is the only local official in the country who conducts foreign policy. This week, Michael Bloomberg found himself in the middle of one of the deepest international rifts of all - between the U.S. and Iran. On his weekly radio show on WABC, Bloomberg made it clear that whatever President Ahmadinejad wanted to do in New York City, he would not be going to visit the former site of the World Trade Center.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Independent, New York City): He's not going downtown. I think, hopefully, he understands why not. But I just think it'd be totally inappropriate.

SMITH: Inappropriate, the mayor went on, because of statements Ahmadinejad has made about the Holocaust being a myth, and calling for Israel to be wiped off the map. As for speaking to Columbia University on Monday, Bloomberg said he had no control over that.

Mayor BLOOMBERG: Personally, I wouldn't go to listen to him. I don't care about what he says. I mean, I think he's said enough that I find disgusting and despicable that I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of having - of being in the audience.

SMITH: Ahmadinejad says that he will not insist on going to Ground Zero, and that he's baffled by the idea that anything about his trip would offend Americans. Oh, but offend it has.

He's pulled off a neat trick in New York, uniting conservatives and liberals in condemning him. They're calling on Columbia University to cancel the appearance.

Republican John McCain, who spoke at Columbia's commencement last year, said that a man who's directing the maiming and killing of American troops shouldn't be given an invitation to speak.

Meanwhile, City Council speaker Christine Quinn, a liberal Democrat, chided Columbia for providing a forum for, quote, "hate-mongering vitriol."

At the University today, student groups have wallpapered the campus with graphic photos of Iran's public executions. Ahmadinejad's quotes about the Holocaust and Israel are placed alongside. An adjunct professor of education, Tom Luchodoponte(ph) looks at the photos and says he can't believe the university invited him.

Professor TOM LUCHODOPONTE (Education, Columbia University): I'm disappointed that we are providing such an important forum to the Iranian president. For the sake of human rights, do you promote somebody who is going to destroy human rights?

SMITH: Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, says actually, that's part of Columbia's free speech tradition. He's promised the community that Ahmadinejad will be challenged in this forum, answering questions about Israel and the Holocaust.

One student, Daniel Goldberg, already has his ticket and says it should be a good show.

Mr. DANIEL GOLDBERG (Student, Columbia University): I'm just interested to see the man because I feel like he's part of history. Even though I don't agree with what he says, he's still has some role in creating history. So…

SMITH: You're Jewish? You say you have family that died in the Holocaust?

Mr. GOLDBERG: I had, yeah. I know of at least one person.

SMITH: And this is the man who says it didn't happen, it's a myth?

Mr. GOLDBERG: Right. Right. No, I totally - completely disagree with him, and I wonder what his rationale is for saying something like that. Is he just politically minded, you know? Is he trying to gather some sort of support to himself by saying that? Or - because I can't honestly believe that the man feels that that's true.

SMITH: Another student, sophomore A.J. Pascua, says that maybe — just maybe — the president of Iran will learn a little something from Columbia students.

Mr. A.J. PASCUA (Student, Columbia University): I certainly hope that he understands where the waves of frustration are coming from, particularly from the Western world. And he's going to realize then that it's not only coming from authoritative figures, like politicians like President Bush, but also people who are just growing into adulthood, people who are receiving an education. And perhaps then, he'll realize through an exchange of ideas how other people feel about the situation.

SMITH: He won't be able to miss it. Protests at the university are planned starting on Monday morning and they'll continue through Ahmadinejad's appearance that evening.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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