Ahmadinejad: How Is WTC Visit Insulting?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking to 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley in Tehran on Sept. 20, 2007. Their interview is scheduled to be broadcast on 092307. CBS

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will not press his plan -- just denied by New York City police for security reasons -- to visit ground zero in New York City, he tells 60 Minutes' Scott Pelley in an exclusive interview conducted Thursday in Iran.

The Iranian leader says he's skeptical that most Americans view his visit there as insulting as his intention was only to show respect. The interview will be broadcast Sunday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

His request to lay a wreath at the World Trade Center site in New York City next week was turned down by police Thursday and blasted by U.S. diplomats as an attempt to turn ground zero into a "photo op."

Ahmadinejad, who is to arrive Sunday to address the U.N.'s General Assembly, asked the city and the U.S. Secret Service earlier this month for permission to visit the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The request to enter the fenced-in site was rejected because of ongoing construction there and due to security concerns, police spokesman Paul Browne said Wednesday.

Asked if he intends to press his request to visit the site, Ahmadinejad tells Pelley, "Well, it was included in my program. If we have the time and the conditions are conducive, I will try to do that."

"But the New York Police Department and others do not appear to want you there. Do you intend to go there anyway?" Pelley asks.

"Well, over there, local officials need to make the necessary coordinations. If they can't do that, I won't insist," the president replies.

"Sir, what were you thinking? The World Trade Center site is the most sensitive place in the American heart, and you must have known that visiting there would be insulting to many, many Americans," Pelley says.

"Why should it be insulting?" Ahmadinejad asks.

"Well, sir, you're the head of government of an Islamist state that the United States government says is a major exporter of terrorism around the world," Pelley replies.

Ahmadinejad says: "Well, I wouldn't say that what American government says is a-- is the prerequisite here. Something happened there which led to other events. Many innocent people were killed there. Some of those people were American citizens obviously. We obviously are very much against any terrorist action and any killing. And also we are very much against any plots to sow the seeds of discord among nations. Usually you go to these sites to pay your respects. And-- also to perhaps to air your views about the root causes of such incidents. I think that when I do that, I will be paying, as I said earlier, my respect to the American nation."

"But the American people, sir, believe that your country is a terrorist nation, exporting terrorism in the world," Pelley says. "You must have known that visiting the World Trade Center site would infuriate many Americans."

"Well, I'm amazed. How can you speak for the whole of the American nation?" Ahmadinejad says. "You are representing a media and you're a reporter. The American nation is made up of 300 million people. There are different points of view over there."
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