Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia University whips up controversy

Iran Materials 24 September 2007 11:33 (UTC +04:00)

( RIA Novosti ) - A planned visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to New York's Columbia University Monday has met with a storm of protests.

Ahmadinejad, who arrived in New York on Sunday, is scheduled to participate in a question and answer session at the prestigious university. Student groups, politicians and civic leaders have announced plans to hold a demonstration at the university during the event.

University President Lee Bollinger "will introduce the event by challenging President Ahmadinejad on a number of his controversial statements and his government's policies, including his denial of the Holocaust and his call for the destruction of the State of Israel," said Columbia University's Web site.

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. and other Western powers have been high recently, with the White House accusing the Islamic Republic of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and supplying arms to anti-U.S. Shiite militias in Iraq.

In answer to critics, including the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, who say that Ahmadinejad should not be given a public forum to express his views, Bollinger said " Columbia, as a community dedicated to learning and scholarship, is committed to confronting ideas-to understand the world as it is and as it might be."

"Necessarily, on occasion this will bring us into contact with beliefs many, most or even all of us will find offensive and even odious. We trust our community, including our students, to be fully capable of dealing with these occasions, through the powers of dialogue and reason."

Ahmadinejad commented on Sunday that the American people were eager to hear different opinions about the world, and that he was looking forward to having the opportunity to voice them during his trip to the U.S., Iranian state media reported.

He also said that America was a large and important country whose people did not always have the chance to hear the truth about world issues.

The Iranian president also denied claims that Iran was building a nuclear bomb. Speaking in a '60 Minutes' interview taped in Iran before his departure, and aired on Sunday in the U.S., he said "Well, you have to appreciate we don't need a nuclear bomb. We don't need that. What need do we have for a bomb? In political relations right now, the nuclear bomb is of no use. If it was useful it would have prevented the downfall of the Soviet Union."

A request by Ahmadinejad to visit Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was earlier denied by city officials.

Ahmadinejad will also address the United Nation General Assembly on Tuesday, where he is also expected to be met by protesters.