Ahmadinejad Heads to the Ivy League

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at Columbia University Monday.

Sept. 23, 2007 — -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in the United States to meet with world leaders at the United Nations, but a side appearance at Columbia University is garnering critical attention.

Ahmadinejad accepted an invitation to attend a forum with students and faculty at the Ivy League school Monday.

But the invitation has outraged some, who question how a leader with suspected terrorist ties will be allowed to speak at one of the nation's premiere universities.

"His country has put itself into a war that we're having in Iraq," said WOR Radio Network host Steve Malzburg. "He has sent weapons. He has sent men. He has sent men to train for the use of those weapons, and those weapons are killing Americans as we speak."

Yet despite objections like Malzburg's, Columbia has resisted calls to cancel the event.

"Iran is an important country. And like it or not, we are going to have to deal with it," said Dean John Coatsworth of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs this morning on "Good Morning America Weekend Edition." "We are not giving him a platform. He has plenty of platforms."

Coatsworth said the school is giving the Iranian president a classroom so that students can learn. He added the visit is important because it will aid students learning about diplomatic and international affairs.

"We are going to have to deal with people like this in the real world," he said. "We need to know more about this guy and what he stands for. And we need to challenge him when we can."

Coatsworth, who will act as the moderator at the event, said the school expects 600 students to attend.

"I think he'll be received civilly and courteously and then people will ask him the hardest questions they can think of," he said.

In an interview Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes" Ahmadinejad said Tehran is neither building a nuclear bomb nor headed to war with the United States.

Ahmadinejad said in the "60 Minutes" interview taped in Iran on Thursday: "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."

He also said that: "It's wrong to think that Iran and the U.S. are walking toward war. Who says so? Why should we go to war? There is no war in the offing."

Some students have applauded Columbia's decision to bring Ahmadinejad to campus.

"Even if you don't agree with Ahmadinejad or his ideas about Israel, about U.S., terrorism at large," said Dhawal Sharma, a law student, "the best way to go against them or subvert is to have him come here and have a discussion with him."

No WTC Wreath Laying

Ahmadinejad's Columbia appearance is just one source of controversy swirling around his New York visit.

Iran's president said he wanted to visit the World Trade Center site and lay a wreath down in remembrance of the Sept. 11 victims.

New York City's mayor and police commissioner denied the request, citing security concerns.

Perhaps ironically, Ahmadinejad will stay at a posh downtown hotel, just across the street from the Jewish Heritage Museum. This, despite repeatedly calling the Holocaust a myth.