US Senator John McCain provoked
controversy Monday with comments on Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad's ambition to travel in space.
"So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space - wasn't he just there last week?" McCain tweeted on the internet social media service Twitter, a clear reference to Iran's claim that it sent a monkey into space.
Earlier Monday, Ahmadinejad said he was ready to become the first Iranian to go to space, official news agency IRNA reported.
"For the sake of the country's scientific progress, I am ready to even sacrifice my life and become the first Iranian astronaut to go to space," IRNA quoted the president as saying.
McCain was pounded on Twitter for his remarks, which pushed him to take a step back: "Re: Iran space tweet - lighten up folks, can't everyone take a joke?" McCain flashed.
One of McCain's critics chided: ""Maybe you should wisen up & not make racist jokes."
Iran said it sent a monkey into orbit and returned it safely back to earth, and said it had ambitions to become the first Islamic country to send an astronaut to space.
According to Ahmadinejad, Iran will send its first astronaut to space within four or five years.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland resisted being drawn into comment, but raised questions about whether the same monkey sent into space had returned.
"I'm simply saying that the Iranians said they sent a monkey, but the monkey that they showed later seemed to have different facial features ... He was missing a little wart," she said, laughing.
Ahmadinejad denied Western charges that Iran's space programme had a military dimension.
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