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Monkey tricks? Washington skeptical of Iran's simian space flight

| Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 7:00 p.m.
COMBO - This combination of two photos obtained from the Iranian Students News Agency, ISNA, shows, left, an Iranian technician holding a monkey that Iran claims rode an Iranian rocket into space, in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, and right, an undated image of an Iranian technician holding a monkey which had been prepared to ride an Iranian rocket into space, in an undisclosed location in Iran. One of two official packages of photos of Iran's famed simian space traveler released to media depicted the wrong monkey--with a distinctive mole over its right eye--but a senior Iranian space official confirmed Saturday that a primate really did fly into space and returned safely to Earth. (AP Photo/ ISNA, Borna Ghasemi, Mohammad Agah)

WASHINGTON — The United States expressed doubt on Monday about Iran's claim that it safely returned a monkey from space, saying it is questionable that the monkey survived — or that the flight happened at all.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said a lot of questions remained “about whether the monkey that they reportedly sent up into space and reportedly came down was actually the same monkey, whether he survived.” She noted, “The monkey that they showed later ... was missing a little wart.”

Tehran blamed the confusion on media for using a photo of a backup monkey. It insisted a monkey orbited and returned safely.

Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astronomer, believes Iran's claim that the monkey space flight was real, and says the simian with the mole died during a failed space mission in 2011.

Washington worries the Iranian program may be cover for long-range missile development.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, volunteered to be his country's first astronaut, “I'm ready to ... go into space,” he said on Monday.

Nuland described Ahmadinejad's decision as an “interesting choice,” while Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tweeted: “Wasn't he just there last week?”

When his tweet generated criticism, McCain told his followers, “Lighten up folks, can't everyone take a joke.”

But it wasn't funny to Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican, who tweeted, “Maybe you should wisen up & not make racist jokes.”

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