Ahmadinejad Arrives in N.Y. to Frosty Reception

Iranian president plans U.N. address, controversial talk at Columbia University.

ByABC News
February 9, 2009, 9:52 AM

Sept. 23, 2007 — -- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in New York late Sunday afternoon amid heightened security and the threat of protests during his visit to the city.

The Iranian leader will address the United Nations General Assembly. But it is his visit tomorrow to Columbia University and his request to visit Ground Zero that have sparked the most outrage.

The Iranian leader will speak to a group of about 600 students and faculty at Columbia on Monday and then take questions from the audience.

Before he even landed in New York, a pro-Israel group held a press conference at the Columbia campus, demanding the university withdraw its invitation.

"He has American blood on his hands," said City Council member David Weprin, "as he has aided the insurgency in Iraq by sending weapons and manpower for the sole purpose to kill Americans."

The university has stood by it decision.

"We're not offering him a platform. He has plenty of platforms," argued John Coatsworth, dean of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. "We're offering him a classroom where people can challenge his views, criticize and listen to his responses."

Ahmadinejad's request to visit Ground Zero during his stay in New York was rejected by city officials. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said a such visit would be "inappropriate."

In an interview on "60 Minutes," Ahmadinejad questioned why his desire to visit the site would be insulting to Americans.

"Usually, you go to these sites to pay your respects," he said. "And also to perhaps air your views about the root causes of such incidents."

Victims' family members like Charles Wolf, who lost his wife on 9/11, believes Ahmadinejad can't be taken at his word.

"Anyone who thinks this is a whole thing about paying respects to the dead is being naïve," he said.