Opponents try to bar Ahmadinejad from UN

Effort unlikely to succeed; requests to limit his movements may be filed, demonstrations planned.

ahmadinejad fist 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
ahmadinejad fist 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Faced with the prospect of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's participation in the UN General Assembly later this month, opponents are trying to block his entry into the United States. Iranian and UN officials have confirmed that Ahmadinejad, who claimed victory in contested elections in June, plans to speak at the annual meeting, open to all UN member states. But that has not dissuaded critics of the Iranian president, who in the past has denied the Holocaust and called 9/11 a "suspect event." The wave of violence and protests that swept through Iran following the election has further intensified that opposition. In a letter to President Barack Obama, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican of Florida, called on the White House to deny Ahmadinejad's request to enter the United States. "Our responsibility as the UN's host country is trumped by our national security," she said in a statement. "The focus for the US as the UN General Assembly meeting approaches should be on securing the adoption and enforcement of broader and stronger UN Security Council sanctions on the Iranian regime, and on cutting off nuclear technical assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency to Iran," she said. On Tuesday, a State Department spokesman said he could not comment on whether Ahmadinejad would be granted a visa. During a daily briefing with reporters, the spokesman said the US government is still waiting for a response from the Iranians concerning an invitation to hold talks on its nuclear program. But by most accounts, it seems unlikely that Ahmadinejad can be prevented from attending the General Assembly. The United States has said that as the host country of the United Nations, it is obligated to facilitate UN work, including providing access to its members. US officials said they would respect invitations extended by the UN, even to the most controversial foreign dignitaries. But Anne Bayefsky, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, questioned whether the host agreement had exceptions. "Although the prevailing wisdom of the State Department is that they have no discretion under the terms and conditions of the host agreement, surely it is vitiated by an individual who advocates genocide," said Bayefsky, who directs the Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust at Touro College in New York. Observers said it was unlikely that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would disinvite Ahmadinejad. Under UN protocol, all heads of state are invited to participate in the General Assembly. Since 2005, Ahmadinejad has attended the UN summit, and an aide said on Monday that he plans to address the UN body this year as well. Other controversial dignitaries will also be in attendance, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi. However, Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, said the contested Iranian elections in June made clear that Ahmadinejad "has no legitimacy to represent the Iranian people." "Instead of sending letters of congratulation to Ahmadinejad for his rigged victory, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, together with the member states, should be denying the tyrant any international recognition, which would automatically bar him from the rostrum," he said. At stake, he said, is allowing "the leading Holocaust-denier of our time" to "abuse this global podium to legitimize his oppressive rule, deflect attention from his crimes, and spew hatred against the free world, especially Israel." It is unclear where the Iranian president will stay during his trip. "The president's trip to New York is still on his agenda and relevant officials here in Teheran are working on the necessary preparations," Ali-Akbar Javanfekr, Ahmadinejad's media adviser, told Reuters. At the same time, questions also persist as to how strictly the US can restrict Ahmadinejad's movement while in the country. "I think it makes us feel good to say we don't want him, but there's very little opportunity to prevent it unless we move the UN out of New York," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Instead, Foxman said the United States can restrict his movement. "That, one can ask for," he said. "You can restrict his presence in the city, but you can't stop it." Under the Foreign Mission Act, the US has the right to restrict travel within a certain distance of UN headquarters, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters on August 26 when discussing Gaddafi's visit, news of which riled a New Jersey community where the Libyan leader initially planned to stay. "In the past, Soviet diplomats have been restricted to it," said Kelly. "Right now, Iranian diplomats are restricted to it." But he said he does not know of a situation where someone was confined to the area between East 42nd and East 48th Street, and 1st Avenue and the East River. Ahmadinejad has made waves before during previous visits to New York. In 2007, Columbia University became embroiled in controversy when it invited him to speak on campus. "They labeled it free speech," Bayefsky said. "But the reality is these invitations legitimize his genocidal agenda and the brutality that we have witnessed in the post-election Iran." Sensing there is little to do to prevent Ahmadinejad's visit, Jewish and other organizations are planning large demonstrations, similar to previous years. "We have urged the UN not to allow him this platform," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "We have to face the reality that he's likely coming, as is Gaddafi, as is Chavez." On September 10, the Conference of Presidents is organizing a national "fly in" to Washington, where they plan to urge members of Congress to pass sanctions against Iran. When the General Assembly convenes in New York, the group - as part of an Interagency Task Force on Iran - is planning a major demonstration outside the United Nations, to take place on September 24. Simultaneous events will take place in Chicago, Denver, Detroit and Los Angeles. "There will be events in New York and around the country to protest Ahmadinejad's being here, but more importantly to focus on the human rights violations, especially in the aftermath of the election," Hoenlein said.