NEW YORK — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in New York to protests Sunday and said in a television interview that Iran was neither building a nuclear bomb nor headed to war with the United States.
|Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waves as he boards his plane leaving Tehran, Iran, on Sunday for New York.|
The president’s motorcade pulled up to the midtown hotel where he will be staying while he appears at a series of events including the U.N. General Assembly and a forum at Columbia University, where about 40 elected officials and civic leaders decried his visit.
Ahmadinejad’s public-relations push appears aimed at presenting his views directly to a U.S. audience amid rising strains and talk of war between the two nations.
Tensions are high between Washington and Tehran over U.S. accusations that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, as well as helping Shiite militias in Iraq that target U.S. troops — claims Iran denies.
“Well, you have to appreciate we don’t need a nuclear bomb. We don’t need that. What need do we have for a bomb?” Ahmadinejad said in the “60 Minutes” interview taped in Iran on Thursday. “In political relations right now, the nuclear bomb is of no use. If it was useful it would have prevented the downfall of the Soviet Union.”
He also said that: “It’s wrong to think that Iran and the U.S. are walking toward war. Who says so? Why should we go to war? There is no war in the offing.”
Before leaving Iran, Ahmadin-ejad said the American people have been denied “correct information,” and his visit will give them a chance to hear a different voice, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Washington has said it is addressing the Iran situation diplomatically, rather than militarily, but U.S. officials also say that all options are open. The commander of the U.S. military forces in the Middle East said he did not believe tensions will lead to war.
“This constant drum beat of conflict is what strikes me, which is not helpful and not useful,” Adm. William Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, said in an interview with Al-Jazeera television, which made a partial transcript available Sunday.
Ahmadinejad’s scheduled address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday will be his third time attending the New York meeting in three years.
But his request to lay a wreath at ground zero was denied by city officials and condemned by politicians who said a visit to the site of the 2001 terror attacks would violate sacred ground.
Police cited construction and security concerns in denying Ahmadinejad’s request. Ahmadinejad told “60 Minutes” he would not press the issue but expressed disbelief that the visit would offend Americans.