(photo credit: AP)
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.
The Iranian president, who is arriving Sunday to address the United Nations' General Assembly, had asked the police department, the US 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 Wednesday.
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.
Kelly's comments prompted outcry from politicians and families of Sept. 11 victims.
The Port Authority, which owns the trade center site and is the only agency that could grant permission to go inside, said it attended a meeting with police regarding dignitary visits, not specifically about Ahmadinejad. At that meeting, it was determined that no dignitaries would be allowed inside the site due to ongoing construction, said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman.
It was not 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.
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."
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, told reporters Wednesday that the United States would not support Iran's attempt to use the site for a "photo op."
"Iran can demonstrate its seriousness about concern with regard to terrorism by taking concrete actions," such as dropping support for Hizbullah and suspending their uranium enrichment program, Khalilzad said.
Iran and the US have not had diplomatic relations since Washington cut its ties with Teheran after Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Teheran 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.
Mohammad Mir Ali Mohammadi, spokesman for the Iranian mission to the UN, said he was not notified officially that Ahmadinejad would not be allowed at the site, but said it was unfortunate.
"President Ahmadinejad intended to lay a wreath at the site of ground zero in order to pay tribute to the victims of the terrorists attack of Sept. 11, 2001. We are hopeful that we can still work something out with the police department," he said.