TEHRAN, Iran - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday that the American people are eager for different opinions about the world, and he is looking forward to providing them with "correct and clear information," state media reported.
The hardline Iranian leader left Sunday for New York to address the You.N. General Assembly and speak to students and teachers during a forum at Columbia University.
Tensions are high between Washington and Tehran over US. accusations that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and helping Shiite militias in Iraq that target US. troops — claims Iran denies
Ahmadinejad said his visit will give Americans a chance to hear a different voice, the official IRNA news agency reported.
"The United States is a big and important country with a population of 300 million. Due to certain issues, the American people in the past years have been denied correct and clear information about global developments and are eager to hear different opinions," Ahmadinejad was quoted by IRNA as saying.
State-run television also quoted Ahmadinejad before boarding his presidential plane Sunday as saying that the General Assembly was an "important podium" to express Iran's views on regional and global issues.
Speaking at Columbia University
He is scheduled to address the Assembly on Tuesday — his third time attending the New York meeting in three years. He is also set to speak at a Columbia University question-and-answer forum on Monday in New York.
His request to lay a wreath at ground zero, site of the World Trade Center 2001 terror attacks, was denied by city officials and condemned by politicians. After the Sept. 11 attacks, hundreds of young Iranians held a series of candlelight vigils in Tehran.
Police rejected Ahmadinejad's request, citing construction and security concerns. In an interview to air Sunday on "60 Minutes," Ahmadinejad indicated he would not press the issue but expressed disbelief that the visit would offend Americans.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini also appeared dismayed that the request was rejected.
"What kind of damage will the US. face" by Ahmadinejad visiting the site, Hosseini asked at his weekly press conference Sunday.
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger has resisted requests to cancel the event but promised to introduce the talk himself with a series of tough questions on topics including Ahmadinejad's views on the Holocaust, his call for the destruction of the state of Israel and his government's alleged support of terrorism.
Columbia canceled a planned visit by the Iranian president last year, citing security and logistical reasons. Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust "a myth" and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
Hosseini said there "are efforts to cancel" the Columbia speech, but the Iranian government is continuing to pursue the program. He did not elaborate other than saying a lot of pressure was being placed on the program's sponsors
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