Monday, September 24, 2007

A ranking Republican leader is threatening to introduce legislation to pull federal funding from Columbia University if the Iranian president’s invitation to speak is not revoked today.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, sent a scathing letter to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger demanding that the university rethink allowing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak on campus, a speech scheduled for today.

“At the same time President Ahmadinejad will be addressing the Columbia University audience, Iranian agents will continue smuggling weapons across the Iraqi border with one goal in mind: arming insurgents to attack and kill U.S. military personnel,” Mr. Hunter said in his letter to Mr. Bollinger.

“For an institution of Columbia University’s caliber, it is inconceivable that you would provide President Ahmadinejad with this opportunity,” said Mr. Hunter, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination. “I trust the University will do the right thing and immediately withdraw its invitation to President Ahmadinejad. However, should you choose to go forward, I intend to introduce legislation in Congress to disqualify Columbia University from any future federal support.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad arrived yesterday in New York amid a flurry of anger over his request to take a tour of the trade center site while he prepares to speak to leaders at the United Nations tomorrow.

The Iranian leader’s plan to lay a wreath at ground zero drew anger from across the nation. New York City officials last week denied Iran’s request for the visit, citing security concerns.

But another presidential candidate, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, was more circumspect in her words about Columbia’s invitation yesterday, saying on CNN that the invitation was “a decision the university has to make.”

When pressed by host Wolf Blitzer for her opinion — “what do you think, though? Is it appropriate?” — Mrs. Clinton said that “I also respect the right in our country to make different decisions,” while noting that “if I were a president of the university, I would not have invited him.”

She went on to call the Iranian leader “a Holocaust denier” and “a supporter of terrorism” and noted that she had called his requested ground zero visit “clearly out of bounds.”

The Iranian leader has been criticized for calling for “wiping Israel off the map,” and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps has been linked to insurgent attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.

“Columbia University’s hosting of Ahmadinejad is a slap in the face of every one of the 165,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq,” Mr. Hunter said. “As he speaks, his agents will be moving roadside bombs onto the battlefield to be used against America’s military men and women.”

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire-service reports.

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