With France and the US now sharing a tough stance on Iran’s nuclear programme, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was a particularly welcome guest when he arrived in Washington. Iran is at the top of the agenda for Kouchner’s two- day visit. Last week he spoke of war as a possibility if diplomacy failed. But he has since softened his tone: “We want to talk and promote peace in the region,” he said. “We don’t have any intention other than to talk, talk, talk.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies his country is trying to develop nuclear weapons and is expected to reinforce the point at the UN next week. But his mere presence in New York has provoked controversy. Colombia University is under pressure to withdraw a speaking invitation to the Iranian leader. And police officials have denied his request to be allowed to lay a wreath at ground zero.
The proposal had troubled some city residents: “Him coming here seems like just a provocative move that can only bring pain or suspect motives. He’s shown no great love of the American people. I don’t see him reaching out to the American people,” one said.
Another said: “Anyone here, I think, should have free expression to visit where they want. On the other hand, there’s something about it that just rubs me up the wrong way. So I’m undecided.”
Police said they were turning down the request on public safety grounds. The US regards Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. Ahmadinejad has in the past questioned whether the Holocaust happend and called for Israel to be wiped off the map.