(CNSNews.com) – The organization planning to build a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero denied reports Tuesday about a scheduled meeting to discuss the matter with New York Gov. David Paterson. The group reaffirmed that it has no intention of moving the controversial project.
Earlier Rep. Peter King (R.-N.Y.), a vocal critic of the plan, said Paterson told him during a phone conversation that he planned to meet with the developers later this week to discuss the possibility of an alternative site.
The project is the brainchild of Feisel Abdul Rauf, an Islamic cleric who heads the Cordoba Initiative, an organization whose stated goal is to improve Muslim-West relations.
Formally called Park51 – the address is 45-51 Park Place in lower Manhattan, about 200 yards from the World Trade Center site – the project widely dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque” has become a major national political issue.
Opponents argue that its location is insensitive to the families and loved ones of those killed and injured when al-Qaeda attacked on 9/11. The terrorist network claims to be driven by the tenets of Islam.
Paterson last week offered the organizers state assistance if they agreed to move the site, but they declined.
Tuesday’s news suggested a fresh bid by the governor, but the Cordoba Initiative shot down the idea.
“Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf is currently abroad,” it said in a statement. “Despite several media reports, there have been no meetings scheduled between Imam Feisel and Governor Paterson, nor have there been any communications between the offices of Cordoba Initiative and the Governor.”
“Furthermore, Cordoba Initiative and Park51 are committed to maintaining the current planned location for the Community Center,” the organization added.
Rauf is understood to have been visiting Malaysia, ahead of a State Department-funded trip to Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Against the background of the mosque dispute news of the tour stoked controversy, with critics worrying he would use the trip to raise funds for the $100 million NYC project.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said last week that while in the Gulf states, Rauf would “discuss Muslim life in America and religious tolerance.”
He said Rauf would be prohibited from raising money while on the speaking tour, adding, “We do not expect him to fund-raise.”
One issue raised by critics of the project is the concern that it may be funded by foreign organizations with extremist links.
The Republican candidate in the race to succeed Paterson, former U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio, has called on his Democratic opponent in the contest, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, to investigate the sources of funding for the mosque.
For its part, the Cordoba Initiative has not said where the money for Park51 will come from. But it has said it will refuse funding from questionable sources.
“We have hired legal counsel and top-notch auditors to oversee this process from start to finish,” the Cordoba Initiative says in a statement on its Web site.
“We will hire security consultants to assist us in the process of reviewing potential financiers and philanthropists as we begin to establish our fundraising strategy. We will refuse assistance, financial or otherwise, from any persons or institutions who are flagged by our security consultants or any government agencies.”
On August 10, Paterson voiced concern about the Park51 project and raised the possibility of it being located elsewhere.
Speaking during a press conference on an unrelated law enforcement topic, he said that while the planned building met the legal requirements, “what it does do is seem to ignite an immense amount of anxiety among the citizens of New York and I guess people everywhere – and I think not without cause.”
Paterson said he had no objection to the mosque being built, “but I’m very sensitive to the desires of those who are adamant against it to see something else worked out.”
“And frankly if the sponsors were looking for property anywhere at a distance that … would accommodate a better feeling among the people who are frustrated, I would look into trying to provide them with the state property they would need,” he said.
The next day Paterson said the mosque developers had told his office they were not interested in discussing the option of finding another site.