(by Sarah Garland, NYSun.com) – New York City … is opposing a request by [Iranian] President Ahmadinejad to lay a wreath at ground zero when the Iranian is in New York next week for a meeting of the United Nations.
After a spokesman for the National Security Council in the White House said that a decision on Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit was up to New York City, the police department put out a statement saying that the idea for a visit into the pit at ground zero had been quickly dismissed earlier this month in a mid-level meeting among aides of the police department, the Secret Service, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
“This is a matter for the City of New York to resolve,” a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House, Gordon Johndroe, said. He added pointedly: “It seems odd that the president of a country that is a state sponsor of terror would visit ground zero.” Minutes later, Bloomberg administration officials were saying privately that a visit by Mr. Ahmadinejad anywhere near ground zero was “not going to happen.”
New Yorkers on both sides of the political spectrum were outraged at the idea that the Iranian president would approach the spot where thousands died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The news also briefly halted the sparring among the most prominent candidates on the presidential campaign trail.
In a rare moment of unity, Senator Clinton, Governor Romney, Mayor Giuliani, Senator Obama, and a former senator running for president, Fred Thompson, each made statements against the proposed ground zero visit, saying it would dishonor the memory of those who died there.
“It is unacceptable for Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who refuses to renounce and end his own country’s support of terrorism, to visit the site of the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil in our nation’s history,” Mrs. Clinton said in a statement. Mr. Obama said ground zero “must not be a backdrop for President Ahmadinejad to posture.”
“An insult to the memory of those who died on 9/11 at the hands of terrorists, and those who have fought terrorism for years”: That is how a spokeswoman for Mr. Thompson, Karen Hanretty, characterized the proposed visit. Mr. Romney, a Republican candidate, called the plan “shockingly audacious,” while Mr. Giuliani called it “outrageous.”
Still, the NYPD has little say over Mr. Ahmadinejad’s movements while he is here as long as he stays within 25 miles of Columbus Circle, meaning he could go to ground zero if he chooses during his visit, sources said. Under the terms of the United Nations Headquarters Agreement, America as the host country must protect all foreign heads of state and dignitaries who visit the U.N. while they are in New York.
“That’s what’s entitled to them by law,” a spokeswoman for the Secret Service, Kim Bruce, said.
She also said the Secret Service has no say over itineraries, except to advise foreign missions of any security risks dignitaries may face during their travels.
“They make those decisions, we don’t make those decisions,” Ms. Bruce said of the foreign missions.
New York City’s police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, confirmed yesterday that both federal and city law enforcement have been quietly discussing the request to escort Mr. Ahmadinejad to ground zero during his visit.
Mr. Kelly, at a routine press appearance at police headquarters yesterday, indicated discussions were under way over Mr. Ahmadinejad’s desire to visit ground zero during a two-day trip to address the world body as the Security Council considers issuing stricter sanctions for Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Mr. Ahmadinejad is scheduled to arrive on Sunday and leave Wednesday.
Mr. Kelly said the NYPD and Secret Service were in discussions with the Iranian Mission about the logistics for the possible visit to ground zero, and whether it would take place at all.
“There has been some interest expressed in his visiting the area,” Mr. Kelly said. “It’s something that we are prepared to handle if in fact it does happen.”
He added during the news conference that Mr. Ahmadinejad would not be allowed to descend into the pit for safety reasons related to ongoing construction at the site.
Later in the afternoon, an NYPD spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, issued a statement saying the police department would oppose Mr. Ahmadinejad’s request to visit the area around ground zero and said it had refused Mr. Ahmadinejad’s request earlier this month to enter the pit.
“Requests for the Iranian president to visit the immediate area would also be opposed by the NYPD on security grounds,” he said.
There may be a number of grounds for restrictions to be laid on the Iranian leader. Individuals may be denied a visa to come to New York under the terms of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which can bar a visit for national security reasons, according a State Department official who requested anonymity.
A recent example is the case of Ali Reza Moaiyeri, Iran’s ambassador to the U.N. institutions in Geneva, Switzerland. The State Department confirmed yesterday that Mr. Moaiyeri was barred from joining the Iranian delegation to the U.N. General Assembly next week.
But the restrictions under the Immigration and Nationality Act have never been applied to a head of state. “We are the host here. Just because we don’t like somebody, we can’t refuse them entry to the United Nations,” the State Department official said.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit to the United Nations will be his third to New York City in two years. A visit to ground zero would mark the first time he or any other Middle Eastern leader made an official visit to the site of the September 11 terrorist attacks, according to Mr. Kelly.
Iran has been called the world’s “most active state sponsor of terrorism” by the U.S. State Department. Mr. Ahmadinejad has suggested the Holocaust never happened and said that Israel should be “wiped off the map.”
In the spring, Mr. Ahmadinejad was forced to cancel a planned visit to the United Nations because visas for his delegation arrived too late.
A spokesman for the State Department, Kurtis Cooper, said he didn’t know if Mr. Ahmadinejad had received his visa for the upcoming visit and said the state department had no role in overseeing his trip to New York.
As for his plan to visit ground zero, Mr. Cooper added: “It is appalling to think that the president Ahmadinejad, one of the world’s leading sponsors of terrorism, would find it appropriate to visit this hallowed ground.”
The Iranian mission to the United Nations, which made the original request to the NYPD and Secret Service on September 6, did not respond to e-mails and phone messages requesting comment.
After news broke of the Iranian’s request to visit ground zero, a vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, said a visit by Mr. Ahmadinejad “would violate the sanctity of the sacred place and the memory of those who perished there.”
Mr. Hoenlein is among those who were already organizing a protest against the Iranian leader Monday in front of the United Nations. He suggested that the Iranian president should be restricted to the immediate vicinity of the United Nations and should not be permitted to travel the full extent of the 25-mile radius that is normally allowed for foreign dignitaries.
The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, suggested that the NYPD had been right to engage with the Iranian mission under their legal obligations to provide protection for dignitaries, but praised them for opposing the plan.
“I am glad they gave it thought. I’m glad that they examined the legal, pragmatic, and the moral issues,” he said. “Having said that, his visa to come to this country is not for sightseeing purposes. It’s limited to the purpose of his business at the United Nations. The 25-mile radius is to permit egress and exit,” he said.
“Of course, we want to educate anybody and everybody about the threat of terrorism and the effects of terror, and 9/11,” the American ambassador to the U.N., Zalmay Khalilzad, said. He added however: “We don’t want that site, where so many people from around the world lost their lives, to be used as a photo-op by people who are involved in terror.”
The proposed visit also angered families of the victims of September 11 and local officials, including the City Council speaker, Christine Quinn, who said she had already been planning to attend a protest against the Iranian leader.
Mr. Ahmadinejad “is not welcome in our community, where we have seen the results, the ultimate results, of what happens when one disrespects the value of human life,” a council member who represents Lower Manhattan, Alan Gerson, said. Council Member Eric Gioia said he would be organizing a protest at ground zero with victims’ families in the event that Mr. Ahmadinejad does visit.
“It’s an outrage,” Mr. Gioia said. “The city of New York should not be giving a photo op to a tyrant.”
Debra Burlingame – whose brother was killed when the hijacked airplane he was piloting crashed into the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001 – said the visit would be “morally offensive.”
She said allowing the request would play right into Mr. Ahmadinejad’s hand.
“I think this would be a photo op for Ahmadinejad that would be published all over the radical Islamic world as him visiting the site of their greatest victory,” she said.
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
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