Obama Defends University's Invite to Ahmadinejad

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama defended the right of his alma mater, Columbia University, to invite Iranian President Ahmadinejad to speak, but the Illinois senator also said that if were president of the university, he would not have made the same decision.

Obama, who received his bachelor's degree from Columbia in 1983, said, "It's not a choice I would have made, but we don't need to be fearful of the rantings of somebody like Ahmadinejad. All we need to do is just to know what our values and ideals are and be clear about what America stands for."

A fair share of criticism was directed at the Ivy League university -- from both sides of the aisle -- for the invitation it extended to the Iranian firebrand: Ahmadinejad has previously called the Holocaust "a myth" and said Israel should be "wiped off the map."

Obama said he would have denied Ahmadinejad the opportunity to speak at Columbia because he has "other forums" available to him in New York, including his address before the United Nations General Assembly.

Still, Obama continued to insist that as president, he would be willing to meet one-on-one with Ahmadinejad.

"Nothing's changed with respect to my belief that strong countries and strong presidents talk to their enemies and talk to their adversaries," Obama said. "Listening to the views, even of those whom we violently disagree with, that sends a signal to the world that we are going to turn the page on the failed diplomacy that the Bush administration has practiced for so long."

Ground Zero Tour Denied

Others in the candidate pool wasted no time chiming in to react to Ahmadinejad's speech and invitation.

Ahmadinejad had already inflamed public opinion in the United States regarding this year's General Assembly meeting when he announced his intention to visit the site where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed Sept. 11, 2001.

His request was denied by the New York Police Department, a decision that New York's leading Democrat and Republican -- Sen. Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani -- applauded.

In a statement last week, Clinton said, ""It is unacceptable for Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who refuses to renounce and end his own country's support of terrorism, to visit the site of the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil in our nation's history."

Ahmadinejad's Entry to the United States

Republican front-runner and former New York City Mayor Giuliani echoed that sentiment and said, "Under no circumstances should the NYPD or any other American authority assist President Ahmadinejad in visiting ground zero."

Today in Maine, Giuliani weighed in on Columbia's decision asking Ahmadinejad to speak "highly inappropriate."

Elsewhere in the GOP, both former Gov. Mitt Romney and former Sen. Fred Thompson blasted Columbia University for inviting Ahmadinejad and stated that, as president, both would have denied Ahmadinejad entry to the United States.

According to the U.N. Headquarters Agreement of 1947, the U.S. "shall not impose any impediments to transit," obligating the United States to allow representatives of U.N. members, or those invited on "official business," to visit the U.N. However, the government may bar entry based on national security grounds. but would have to provide specific allegations for banning Ahmadinejad.

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