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21 Sep 2007 07:40
A request by the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for an official tour of Ground Zero while he is at the United Nations next week met a collective response that was classically New Yorker: Fuhgeddaboutit!
The New York police department turned down Ahmadinejad, citing security concerns and continuing construction at the scene of the September 11 terror attacks.
But the White House and the state department were less concerned with sparing the Iranian leader’s feelings. “I can understand why they would not want somebody who is running a country who is a state sponsor of terror down there at the site,” President George Bush told a White House press conference on Thursday.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, denounced Ahmadinejad’s request as a publicity stunt: “Iran can demonstrate its seriousness about concern with regard to terrorism by taking concrete actions.”
The tabloid press was even blunter.
“Go to hell!” read the cover of the New York Daily News yesterday, plastering a red no-entry symbol over Ahmadinejad’s picture.
It seemed unlikely from the start that Ahmadinejad, who has denied both the Holocaust and the involvement of terrorists in the destruction of the World Trade Centre, would visit Ground Zero like any other dignitary.
In May last year, the Iranian leader wrote Bush a letter suggesting that 9/11 was an inside job.
But on Wednesday the New York police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, said the police department was considering a request from the Iranian leader to lay a wreath at the site where the twin towers once stood.
Media commentators were aghast—and America’s top contenders for the White House in 2008, who are both from New York, soon waded into the fray.
“Assisting Ahmadinejad in touring Ground Zero—hallowed ground for all Americans—is outrageous,” the former mayor of New York and Republican candidate, Rudy Giuliani, said.
Hillary Clinton, the senator from New York who is frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, said it would be “unacceptable” for Ahmadinejad to set foot on the site.
Mohammad Mir Ali Mohammadi, a spokesperson for the Iranian diplomatic mission at the UN, told the Associated Press: “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.” - Guardian Unlimited Â
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