Columbia University was urged yesterday to withdraw a speaking invitation to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.
New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn wrote to the university urging it to cancel Ahmadinejad's planned speech Monday, which is part of Columbia's World Leaders Forum. "Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier," she wrote.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and presidential candidate, also called on Columbia to rescind the invitation, stating in a release: "A man who is directing the maiming and killing of Americans troops should not be given an invitation to speak at an American university."
Lee Bollinger, the university's president, defended the invitation, saying it is "intended to further Columbia's longstanding tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate, especially on global issues."
He stated in a release that he would introduce Ahmadinejad by challenging him on issues such as the Iranian leader's denial of the Holocaust, his vow to destroy Israel, support for terrorism, and nuclear ambitions. Ahmadinejad also must "divide his time evenly" between a speech and questions, Bollinger said.
Ahmadinejad will be in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, and is scheduled to address leaders of the world body's 192 member nations on Tuesday.
President Bush and his military commanders have accused Iran of supplying training and weaponry to rebels in neighboring Iraq who are attacking US troops.
The New York Police Department on Wednesday rejected a request by Ahmadinejad to visit the lower Manhattan site where Al Qaeda terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
The president sought to lay a wreath at Ground Zero "to pay tribute to the victims," said Mohammad Mohammadi, spokesman for Iran's UN mission.
Bush said yesterday that, while it was a decision best left to New York authorities, "I can understand why they would not want somebody that's running a country who's a state sponsor of terror down there at the site."
Last year, Columbia cited "logistical" problems as reasons for its abrupt cancellation of Ahmadinejad's planned appearance there.