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New York: Iran's leader can't visit ground zero

  • Story Highlights
  • Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wanted to visit ground zero
  • New York City officials said no because site is under construction
  • The United States considers Iran a state sponsor of terrorism
  • Leaders call request "audacious," "unacceptable"
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- City officials in New York have denied Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's request to visit the site of the destroyed World Trade Center next week, a police spokesman said Wednesday.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked to visit ground zero, but New York city officials said no.

The controversial, outspoken president wanted to "pay his respects" and lay a wreath at the site of the 2001 al Qaeda attacks during his visit to the U.N. General Assembly, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, citing Iranian officials.

But workers are rebuilding the foundations of the site, "and it would not be possible for him to go where other people don't go," Kelly told CNN.

Iranian officials have not put in any additional requests to visit the public platforms at ground zero, police spokesman Paul Browne told CNN. But, he said, "If there were a further request, we'd reject it" because of security fears. Video Watch why New York said no to Iranian leader »

The Iranian mission to the U.N. said it had not been told of the decision, but in a statement issued Wednesday evening, it called the rejection "unfortunate."

Iran is ruled by a Shiite Muslim government hostile to the fundamentalist Sunni al Qaeda.

Ahmadinejad's predecessor at the time of the September 11 attacks, Mohammed Khatami, condemned them, and Tehran cooperated with the U.S.-led campaign to topple al Qaeda's Taliban allies in Afghanistan that followed.

The United States and Iran have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1980 after Iranian militants stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran and held Americans hostage for 444 days.

The United States considers Iran a state sponsor of terrorism and has accused the country of meddling in Iraq and in Afghanistan where U.S. troops are battling Taliban and al Qaeda remnants more than six years after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

More than 2,700 people died in the attack on the World Trade Center, when al Qaeda terrorists flew hijacked passenger jets into the twin towers. A third jet hit the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers resisted their hijackers.

"It is appalling that President Ahmadinejad, one of the world's leading sponsors of terror, would find it appropriate to visit this hallowed ground," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

Several presidential candidates also condemned the requested visit. Hillary Clinton, the New York senator and Democratic front-runner, called the request "unacceptable." Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a leading Republican, called it "shockingly audacious."

And former Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- whose leadership after the attacks is the cornerstone of his GOP presidential bid -- said that "under no circumstances" should Ahmadinejad be allowed to visit the World Trade Center site.

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Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the site should not be "used as a photo op."

Numerous critics have attacked Ahmadinejad's hard-line anti-Israel stance and his insistence that Iran will defy U.N. demands that it halt its production of enriched uranium. Iran insists it is producing nuclear fuel for civilian power plants, but Washington accuses Tehran of trying to produce a nuclear bomb. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN Correspondent Deborah Feyerick contributed to this report.

All About September 11 AttacksMahmoud AhmadinejadIran

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