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Presidential Hopefuls Slam Columbia Decision to Host Iran’s Ahmadinejad

Amid protests in New York and Washington, front-runners in the 2008 presidential campaign lined up to blast Columbia University for its decision to host Monday’s lecture by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Sunday that she would not have invited the Iranian leader to speak if she were president of the university.

“I also respect the right in our country to make different decisions,” Clinton said. “We have to do everything we can to undermine his standing, his position, his leadership, his demagoguery, but I think the way to do that is by building an international coalition with enforceable sanctions and a strong diplomatic effort.”

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican front-runner, told an ABC affiliate in Maine on Monday that the decision to allow Ahmadinejad to speak was “highly inappropriate.”

“His government of Iran is considered to be the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world,” Giuliani said. “There is very, very strong evidence that they are giving materials and arms and smuggling people that are leading to the slaughter of American troops and others who are fighting for freedom and democracy.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, also a Republican front-runner, released a letter that was read at an anti-Ahmadinejad rally held Monday near the United Nations.

“Instead of inviting him to speak at the United Nations and Columbia University, I believe he should be indicted under the Genocide Convention,” Romney said in his letter. “In prior conflicts, the signs of impending disaster were clear in hindsight. In their wake, we asked how the world’s leaders could have so clearly ignored and abdicated their responsibility to humanity.”

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) also was opposed to the decision.

“I would not have extended an invitation to give President Ahmadinejad another platform for his hateful rhetoric,” Obama said in a statement issued Monday. “Adolph [sic] Hitler was the worst mass murderer in the history of the world, and Ahmadinejad’s denial of his crimes is offensive to Jews, to Americans, and to all people of goodwill.”

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a long-shot candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, said he would initiate legislation that would cut off federal funding to the university.

Columbia President Lee Bollinger has defended the invitation on free speech and academic freedom grounds. During his 20-minute introduction of Ahmadinejad, however, he harshly criticized the leader’s denial of the Holocaust, his suppression of freedom of speech and human rights in Iran, and his country’s nuclear program.

“It should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas, or the weakness of our resolve to resist those ideas or our naivete about the very real dangers inherent in such ideas,” Bollinger said during his introduction.

The hope, he added, was that Ahmadinejad’s presence would help prepare students at Columbia “to have the intellectual and emotional courage to know the mind of evil and to prepare ourselves to act with the right temperament.”

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