NEW YORK: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is on his way to New York to talk to the American people. He is scheduled to lecture on global issues at one of the country's top universities. Meanwhile, his opponents plan to protest and disturb his speeches.
This will be his third trip to United States.
On Monday, the President is scheduled to speak to students and teachers at a Columbia University forum. On Tuesday, he will address the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.
Some American officials plan to demonstrate outside Columbia University on Sunday and near the United Nations while Ahmadinejad is scheduled to speak. New York City politicians and Jewish groups have led the opposition to Ahmadinejad's visit.
Last year, Columbia canceled a scheduled visit by President Ahmadinejad, citing security and logistical reasons. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said that there are "efforts to cancel" the upcoming Columbia speech, but the government in Tehran continued to pursue the program.
Hosseini insisted that a planned visit to Ground Zero remained on Ahmadinejad's itinerary. "The visit to pay tribute to the victims at the site of the twin towers is part of President Ahmadinejad's itinerary, although some people are trying to have it cancelled," the spokesman said.
Ahmadinejad also plans to meet "intellectuals and independent American politicians" during the trip.
Columbia President Lee Bollinger justified the university's decision to invite Ahmadinejad, saying that Columbia "as a community dedicated to learning and scholarship, is committed to confronting ideas."
Bollinger said that Ahmadinejad had agreed to take questions and will be challenged to discuss his views on the Holocaust, Iran's nuclear program and other issues.
Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Bloomberg declined to criticize Columbia, saying it could invite who it wanted.
Some Columbia students - even some who plan to rally against Ahmadinejad - have said that they support allowing him to speak.
For his part, before leaving for New York on Sunday, President Ahmadinejad said that the American people are eager to hear varying opinions about the world and that he looks forward to having the chance to voice his.
The President said, "Since World War II, the United States has had great influence over international affairs. But in truth, the American people have suffered in many ways, having been deprived of access to accurate information."
"The General Assembly of the United Nations is a good opportunity to present the solutions put forward by the Iranian people for solving the world's problems."