Ahmadinejad jokes he’d volunteer to go to space

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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

(CNN) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joked he is so serious about making sure Iran advances technologically that he’d volunteer to go to space for his country if needed.

“I am ready to be the first human to be sent to space by Iranian scientists,” he said after meeting Monday with Iranian space scientists, according to the semi-official Mehr News Agency.

The president’s comments, made in jest, came a week after the state’s semi-official Fars News Agency said Iran had “sent a monkey to the orbit, brought it back to the Earth and retrieved the animal and the relevant data successfully.”

While the reported primate in space caused a celebration in Tehran, the monkey business — if it happened — didn’t play well in Washington.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters last week that while she saw pictures of “the poor little monkey,” the United States doesn’t “have any way to confirm this (happened), one way or another.”

“But our concerns with Iran’s development of space launch vehicle technologies are obviously well-known: Any space launch vehicle capable of placing an object in orbit is directly relevant to the development of long-range ballistic missiles,” Nuland told reporters.

The chatter about Ahmadinejad caused a bit of a problem for Sen. John McCain,who caught flak on Twitter for drawing a parallel between the Iranian president’s statement and the alleged monkey mission.

“So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space – wasn’t he just there last week?” McCain tweeted with a link to the story about the monkey.

McCain’s tweet spurred some negative comments, leading him to respond that he was just making a joke.