In a move that has stunned New York, the Bloomberg administration is in discussions to escort the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to ground zero during his visit to New York next week, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said today.
The Iranian mission to the U.N. made the request to the New York City Police Department and the Secret Service, which will jointly oversee security during the leader’s two-day visit. Mr. Ahmadinejad is scheduled to arrive September 24 to speak to the U.N. General Assembly as the Security Council decides whether to increase sanctions against his country for its uranium enrichment program.
Mr. Kelly said the NYPD and Secret Service were in discussions with the Iranian Mission about the logistics for the possible visit, and whether it will take place at all. He said that for safety reasons related to ongoing construction at ground zero Mr. Ahmadinejad would not be allowed to descend into the pit.
“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.”
Mr. Kelly said Mr. Ahmadinejad had not indicated why he wants to visit the site of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Several presidential candidates quickly condemned the proposed visit.
“It is an insult to the memories of those who died on 9/11 at the hands of terrorists, and those who have fought terrorism for years, to allow the president of the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism to step foot at ground zero,” a spokeswoman for Senator Thompson, Karen Hanretty, said. “Iran is responsible for supplying weapons and supporting extremist who are killing U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to this very day.”
A Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, called the plan “shockingly audacious.”
“It’s inconceivable that any consideration would be given to the idea of entertaining the leader of a state sponsor of terror at ground zero,” Mr. Romney said in a statement. “This would deeply offend the sensibilities of Americans from all corners of our nation. Instead of entertaining Ahmadinejad, we should be indicting him.”
A major American Jewish leader, 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, the vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is a leading figure in organizing a protest against the Iranian leader Monday in front of the U.N.
He told The New York Sun that the Iranian president should be restricted to the immediate vicinity of the U.N. and should not be permitted to travel the full extent of the 25-mile radius that is normally allowed for foreign dignitaries attending meetings at the world body.
Iran has been called the world’s “most active state sponsor of terrorism” by the U.S. State Department.