Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked permission to lay a wreath at the World Trade Center site when he comes to New York City next week, but the request was denied, a police official said Wednesday.
Ahmadinejad, who is arriving Sunday to address the United Nations General Assembly, had asked this month for permission to visit the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, police spokesman Paul Browne said.
The request to enter the fenced-in site was rejected because of ongoing construction there, Browne said.
"Requests for the Iranian president to visit the immediate area would also be opposed by the NYPD on security grounds," Browne said.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, told reporters Wednesday that the United States would not support Iran's attempt to use the site for a "photo op."
"Iran can demonstrate its seriousness about concern with regard to terrorism by taking concrete actions," such as dropping support for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and suspending its uranium enrichment program, Khalilzad said.
Request never received?
Browne said Ahmadinejad had asked permission from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the U.S. Secret Service and the police department. The police and the Secret Service provide security to visiting heads of state.
The Port Authority, which owns the trade center site and is the only agency that could grant him permission to go inside, said it never received such a request, contradicting the police statement.
"We have not been asked to accommodate the president of Iran," Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said.
It wasn't clear whether Ahmadinejad wanted to descend to the base of the trade center site, where the twin towers once stood, or lay a wreath on a public sidewalk outside the site.
Telephone calls to the Iranian Mission to the United Nations were not immediately returned.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said a visit to ground zero "is a matter for the city of New York, but it seems more than odd that the president of a country that is a state sponsor of terror would visit ground zero."
Iran and the U.S. have not had diplomatic relations since Washington cut its ties with Tehran after Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. The Bush administration has accused Iran of arming Shiite Muslim militants in Iraq and seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
In a television appearance earlier this week, Ahmadinejad said his country wanted peace and friendship with the United States, as tensions continued to mount between the two countries.