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Originally published September 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 24, 2007 at 2:10 AM

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Iranian leader denies work on nukes

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in New York to protests Sunday and said in a television interview that Iran was neither building...

The Associated Press

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.

The president's motorcade pulled up to the midtown hotel where he will be staying while he appears at a series of events. They include the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday and a forum Monday at Columbia University, where about 40 elected officials and civic leaders decried his visit.

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. Iran denies those claims.

"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. "

He also said: "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, Ahmadinejad said Americans have been denied "correct information" and his visit will give them a chance to hear a different voice.

Washington has said it is addressing the Iran situation diplomatically, rather than militarily, but U.S. officials say all options are open.

Adm. William Fallon, commander of the U.S. military forces in the Middle East, said he did not believe tensions will lead to war.

Ahmadinejad's scheduled address to the U.N. General Assembly 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 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.

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After the Sept. 11 attacks, hundreds of young Iranians held candlelight vigils in Tehran.

Columbia canceled a planned visit by the Iranian president last year, also citing security and logistical reasons.

University President Lee Bollinger has resisted requests to cancel Ahmadinejad's speech this year, but he promised to introduce the talk himself with tough questions on topics including the Iranian leader's views on the Holocaust, his call for the destruction of the state of Israel and his government's alleged support of terrorism.

Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust "a myth" and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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