Obama: Would Meet Iranian As President

The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 25, 2007; 4:55 PM

NEW YORK -- Democrat Barack Obama says he probably wouldn't have invited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia University but would be willing as president to meet with the Iranian leader as a way to protect U.S. interests.

"The hateful lies that he may utter about Israel, the Holocaust _ the answer is for us to promote the truth and show the world the values and ideals that we hold dear," Obama said Monday. "One of the values we believe in is the value of academic freedom. He has a right to speak."

Obama earned a bachelor's degree in 1983 from Columbia, where the Iranian president spoke on Monday. The Illinois senator was asked about the appearance at a news conference where he was endorsed by New York City's Correction Officers' Benevolent Association.

Columbia has come under heavy criticism for providing a forum to Ahmadinejad, who has called the Holocaust "a myth" and has said Israel should be "wiped off the map."

Democratic candidate John Edwards said Monday of such statements: "I find all those things abhorrent." He added, "I think this is for Columbia to decide whether they want a man like this to speak at their university."

As for meeting with foreign leaders the U.S. does not have good relations with, Edwards said in Washington that he would "do what's in the best interest of the security of the United States of America. ... In the case of a leader like Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, Hugo Chavez, any of these leaders, you have to be extraordinarily careful they would not use such a meeting for PR purposes and for propaganda purposes."

Separately, Republican Mitt Romney began running radio ads in South Carolina and Iowa urging the United Nations to withdraw its invitation to Ahmadinejad to speak to the General Assembly on Tuesday. He said, "What we should be doing is indicting Ahmadinejad under the Genocide Convention."

The ad says that Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, opposed former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's 2006 visit to Harvard and refused to give Khatami a state police escort.

In Chicago for a fundraiser, Republican candidate John McCain told reporters it was astonishing that Columbia would invite Ahmadinejad, citing Iran's hostility toward Israel and potential weapons exported to Iraq.

The Arizona senator said Ahmadinejad should be allowed at the United Nations, but shouldn't have been given a forum to convey "the policies of hate and destruction which would characterize Iran's behavior towards the United States particularly as far as Iraq is concerned."

Like Obama, McCain has a personal link to Columbia. His daughter, Meghan, graduated from the college earlier this year.

In Maine, Republican Rudy Giuliani echoed McCain's criticism of Ahmadinejad and questioned Columbia's invitation.

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