WASHINGTON – The United States has denied visas to about 20 Iranian government officials hoping to attend next week's UN General Assembly, including two ministers, Iran's Fars news agency reported on Saturday.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a regular at the assembly since he took office in 2005, will give his final speech there on Wednesday and will address a meeting on the "rule of law" on Monday.
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According to the report, 20 of the 160 visas requested by the Iranian delegation in July, were denied.
Ahmadinejad's NYC visit meets protests
The US State Department had no immediate comment on the matter.
Fars named two of those banned from going to New York as members of Ahmadinejad's staff: Mohammad Shaikhan, in charge of communications and information, and Mohammad Jafar Behdad, in charge of political affairs.
Ahmadinejad, whose second and final term in office ends next year, has used previous UN speeches to defend a nuclear program he insists is peaceful and to make verbal attacks on Israel, the United States and Europe.
He has questioned the historical truth of the Holocaust and cast doubt on whether Islamist hijackers were really responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Most Western envoys walk out of the UN chamber during his speeches, in protest.
Ahmadinejad's NYC visit meets protests
Meanwhile, protests have sprouted near Ahmadinejad's intended hotel in the Big Apple, as many Americans do not wish to see the Iranian leader set foot on US soil.
Ahmadinejad is expected to stay at the upscale Warwick Hotel in NYC. The hotel did not confirm his stay there.
"We want him to see he's not welcome here," said Nathan Carleton, spokesman for United Against Nuclear Iran, which is gearing up for Ahmadinejad's arrival ahead of the General Assembly, said.
As they did last year, members of United Against Nuclear Iran will be protesting outside and inside, reserving a room in hopes of taking their outrage as close to Ahmadinejad and his entourage as possible.
"We had people walking around the hotel wearing shirts with his face crossed out on them," Carleton said. The group is working to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
The anger extends to the hotel itself. United Against Nuclear Iran and several prominent Jewish groups had urged the Warwick not to provide luxury accommodations for a man who denies the Holocaust and says the US orchestrated the September 11 attacks, and who has also come under criticism for Iran's repressive treatment of its people and its support of groups like Hamas.
"No more than you would host in your home a criminal, why would you make it easy here for a rogue regime?" said Daniel Mariaschin, executive vice president of B'nai B'rith International, the Jewish human rights advocacy group.
The organization has sent letters to the Warwick asking that it not let Ahmadinejad stay there.
"US businesses are under no obligation to accept the business of any delegation to the UN General Assembly," he said.
An Israeli legal group representing a New Yorker injured in a suicide bombing who later won a $12 million judgment against Iran tried to go further – filing legal papers asking that the Warwick turn over any money paid by Iran for the delegation's hotel rooms.
In the motion, Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center demanded that the Warwick either refuse to let Ahmadinejad stay, or hand over Ahmadinejad's hotel fees to its client, Stuart Hersh.
Hersh, now living in Israel, survived a 1997 suicide bombing and sued Iran for damages, accusing the country of supporting Hamas, which staged the attack.
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the law center's director, said while Ahmadinejad has the right as a world leader to speak at the UN that "does not give any rights to any war criminal to walk around New York and engage with other businesses that have nothing to do with the United Nations."
But a federal judge on Thursday denied the motion, saying a room reservation is not property and cannot be used to fulfill a legal judgment.
Dudi Cohen, Reuters and AP contributed to this report
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