Demonstrations are planned today outside the United Nations headquarters in Midtown to protest the government of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is slated to address the United Nations summit on global goals to fight poverty and disease.
Protests are planned all week against his regime's nuclear program and human rights record. Demonstrators also want Iran to free two American hikers, imprisoned for on spying charges, and to stand down on planned executions in the country.
Ahmadinejad, who arrived in New York over the weekend, has already held a string of interviews with both U.S. and foreign news outlets. He told the Associated Press news agency that "the future belongs to Iran" and said the United States must accept that his country has a major role in world affairs.
U.S. officials dismissed the assertion. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for "responsible" leaders to assert control in Iran and said tough UN sanctions were turning the screw on the military-backed regime.
Ahmadinejad has also taken the chance to condemn what he calls "media silence" over the impending execution of a woman in Virginia for ordering the murder of her husband and stepson, IRNA news agency said.
Iran has been under international pressure to spare the life of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old monther who was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery in 2006. Iranian officials have also accused her of planning to kill her husband.
"A woman is being executed in the United States for murder but nobody protests against it," Ahmadinejad told a group of Islamic figures in the United States on Monday, according to IRNA, Iran's official news agency. Teresa Lewis, 41, is due to be executed by lethal injection on Thursday in Virginia.
Meanwhile, The United States on Monday dismissed a suggestion by Ahmadinejad that Iran would free two detained hikers in exchange for imprisoned Iranians in the U.S. A third hiker, Sarah Shourd, 32, was released from prison last week. She arrived back in the United States Sunday and has traveled to New York to try an plead with the Iranian president to release her two friends.
The hikers say they strayed into Iran accidentally in July 2009 from Iraqi Kurdistan, where they were hiking. But Iranian authorities have alleged that they were spying. In her first comments on U.S. soil since being released, Shourd strongly denied any allegations of espionage and said their 13 month detainment was based on a huge "misunderstanding."
On Sunday, protesters set up near Central Park and wore tape across their mouths to demonstrate what they said was the oppressive nature of the Iranian government.
"So the tape is to show that anyone who opposes Ahmadinejad is silenced," said Avi Posnick, regional coordinator of Stand With Us. "We're here in solidarity with the people of Iran who's voices cannot be heard."