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Iran's president says he won't insist on ground zero visit

  • Story Highlights
  • Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had asked to visit ground zero
  • City officials turned down request; Iranian president says he won't insist
  • The United States calls Iran the world's top state sponsor of terrorism
  • The Iranian leader questioned why such a visit would be considered insulting
  • Next Article in U.S. »
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday that he won't push to visit the site of the destroyed World Trade Center during his visit to the United Nations next week.

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Iran's president said he wanted to "pay his respects" and lay a wreath at the site of the 2001 al Qaeda attacks.

The controversial leader asked to "pay his respects" and lay a wreath at the site of the 2001 al Qaeda attacks, but New York city officials on Wednesday denied that request, citing safety concerns at what is now a construction site.

Ahmadinejad said he would try to visit the site "if we have the time and the conditions are conducive." But if local officials cannot make the proper arrangements, "I won't insist," he said in an interview to be aired Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes."

The Bush administration considers Iran a state sponsor of terrorism, and State Department spokesman Tom Casey called the request "the height of hypocrisy."

CBS correspondent Scott Pelley told Ahmadinejad he "must have known that visiting the World Trade Center site would infuriate many Americans."

"Well, I'm amazed," he said, surprised by the question. "How can you speak for the whole of the American nation? The American nation is made up of 300 million people. There are different points of view over there."

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.

Iran is ruled by a Shiite Muslim government hostile to the fundamentalist Sunni al Qaeda. Ahmadinejad's predecessor, Mohammed Khatami, condemned the attacks and cooperated with the U.S.-led campaign to topple al Qaeda's Taliban allies in Afghanistan that followed.

But the United States calls Iran the world's top state sponsor of terrorism because of its support of the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah and other militant groups. Washington and Tehran 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 Bush administration has also accused Iran of meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are battling Taliban and al Qaeda remnants more than six years after the September 11, 2001, attacks. It accuses Iran of supplying advanced explosives to Shiite Muslim militias, some of which have used the devices against U.S. troops.

Ahmadinejad also has drawn fire for his hard-line anti-Israel stance and his insistence that Iran will defy international 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 create a nuclear bomb.

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The Iranian leader has made statements suggesting that Israel be politically "wiped off the map," though he insists that can be accomplished without violence. He has questioned the existence of the Holocaust, the genocidal Nazi campaign against European Jews, and warned Europeans that they may pay a heavy price for its support of Israel.

Ahmadinejad is also slated to speak on the campus of Columbia University during his visit, university President Lee Bollinger said. His presence is likely to spark protests on and off campus. Bollinger said the appearance is part of the World Leaders Forum -- an annual university event "intended to further Columbia's long-standing tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About September 11 AttacksMahmoud AhmadinejadIran

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