It began shortly after lunch time on Wednesday, with a press conference by New York City police commissioner, Raymond Kelly.
Kelly announced that his department was “in discussions” with the Secret Service to coordinate a visit to the Sept. 11 memorial site at ground zero on Monday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The New York Sun ran excerpts from the interview on its Web site early in the afternoon, and within hours, thousands of calls, e-mails, and faxes flooded into the office of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Outraged statements also poured in from presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was talking tough on Iran during a visit to Britain.
Several hours later, a NYPD spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said that Kelly “misspoke.” The police commissioner had based his comments on “outdated information,” and Ahmadinejad’s request to lay a wreath at the memorial site had been denied.
But that was only the beginning of the story.
It turns out that Ahmadinejad still plans to visit ground zero, despite the refusal of New York’s finest to provide him with an official escort.
Instead of visiting the actual memorial, he will stay on public property adjacent to the World Trade Center ruins.
The news has galvanized leaders in the American Jewish community and the Iranian-American community, who are organizing protests to tag the Iranian president throughout his New York city visit.
Meanwhile, talk-radio hosts and leading bloggers have gotten onto the case.
Blogger and columnist Michelle Malkin has launched a special Web page devoted to “organizing a welcoming party” for the Iranian president, where she is also hosting an online poll.
“Where should Ahmadinejad be escorted next?” the poll asks. Readers can choose from the following answers: The U.S. Holocaust Museum, Guantanamo Bay, any college campus (“there’s a faculty position waiting for him, for sure”), Berkeley, or Jimmy Carter’s estate.
As of mid-afternoon on Thursday, half of the 2,332 respondents said he should be sent to Guantanamo Bay, with the U.S. Holocaust Museum a distant second.
The Iranian president also has been invited to speak at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs at 1:30 pm on Monday, where he will be hosted by Carter administration National Security Council aid, Gary Sick.
Iranian-Americans have been writing and calling University President Lee Bollinger to protest.
Radio Sedaye Iran, the leading 24-hour Persian-language news radio in Los Angeles, called on its listeners on Thursday to join the protest movement, and gave on-air instructions of how they could send complaints to Columbia University president Lee Bollinger and to New York Mayor Bloomberg.
Roozbeh Farahanipour, a leader of the 1999 student uprising in Tehran, told NewsMax that Americans need to understand that Ahmadinejad does not represent the Iranian people.
“Ahmadinejad has been selected by the Supreme Leader and by a government that openly boasts that they do not represent the people of Iran, but Allah,” he said.
Sam Kermanian, president of the Iranian-American Jewish Federation, dismissed the visit with humor, saying he didn’t expect Ahmadinejad’s performance to be any different from previous years.
“The only thing left to be seen is whether another halo will appear around his head,” Kermanian said, referring to Ahmadinejad’s claim, widely reported in Iran, that he was surrounded by a celestial light the last time he addressed the U.N.
During a U.N. visit by former President Mohammad Khatami in the late 1990s, the State Department hurriedly moved the presidential aircraft to Andrews Air Force base near Washington, DC to prevent lawyers for the families of terror victims from attaching it to pay damages.
But such high-profile antics aren’t in the cards this year, said Steve Perles, a lawyer for the family of Alisa Flatow and other terror victims.
“Ahmadinejad is a visiting head of state and the United States gave him permission to come,” he told NewsMax. “If we thought we even had a 50/50 chance of keeping his aircraft, I’d attach it in a heartbeat.”
Last year, lawyers for the families of 12 Jewish Iranian citizens who disappeared while trying to flee Iran during Khatami's presidency served a subpoena on Khatami while he was attending a fundraiser in Arlington, Va. for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR.
The ground-breaking lawsuit, filed suit in a New York court in September 2006, gave Khatami 20 days to respond to the allegations that he was directly responsible for the torture and disappearance of Iranian citizens.
Instead, the former Iranian president left the country and has not returned, despite a close relationship with Episcopal Bishop John Chane, who hosted Khatami at the National Cathedral during his trip last year.
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