Iranian president's NY visit sparks protests

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NEW YORK, Sep 24 (Reuters) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met leaders of an anti-Zionist Jewish group today at the start of a visit to New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting that has sparked protests and anger.

Mainstream Jewish groups were among those who condemned an invitation by Columbia University for the Iranian leader to speak later today at its World Leaders Forum.

''The Evil Has Landed'' was the front-page headline in New York's Daily News newspaper, reporting outrage among US critics who say a Holocaust denier blamed by Washington for supporting terrorism should not be given a platform at one of America's most respected universities.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of its civil nuclear program, and of fueling violence in Iraq by providing weapons to anti-American militants.

Iran denies the charges.

The Iranian leader, who last year railed at the United States in his speech to the General Assembly, on Monday morning met leaders of a movement called Neturei Karta International, which describes itself as an Orthodox Jewish group opposed to the existence of the State of Israel.

New York police said last week that Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, had been denied a request to visit the World Trade Center site of the September 11 attacks.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today that it would have been a travesty for Ahmadinejad to visit the site, known as Ground Zero.

''I think it would have been a travesty,'' Rice told cable TV channel CNBC in an interview. ''This is somebody who is the president of a country that is probably the greatest sponsor -- state sponsor -- of terrorism.'' She said she did not see a way to reach Ahmadinejad but she hoped more moderate elements in Iranian politics would see the futility of Iran's remaining so isolated in the world.

''(The) regime needs to change its behavior,'' she said.

Ahmadinejad said in a CBS television interview broadcast on Sunday that Iran did not need nuclear weapons and his country was not heading for war with the United States.

Asked whether Iran and the United States were heading toward conflict over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, he said: ''It's wrong to think that Iran and the US are walking toward war. Who says so? Why should we go to war? There is no war in the offing.'' Reuters JK DB2011

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