U.S., Iran react with fury, for different reasons

WASHINGTON — Congress signaled its disapproval of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a vote Tuesday to tighten sanctions against his government and a call to designate his Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group.

“Iran faces a choice between a very big carrot and a very sharp stick,” said Rep. Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “It is my hope that they will take the carrot. But today, we are putting the stick in place.”

The House passed, by a 397-16 vote, a proposal by Lantos, D-Calif., aimed at blocking foreign investment in Iran, in particular its lucrative energy sector. The bill would specifically bar the president from waiving U.S. sanctions.

Current law imposes sanctions against any foreign company that invests $20 million or more in Iran’s energy industry, although the U.S. has waived or ignored sanction laws in exchange for European support on nonproliferation issues.

In the Senate, Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., proposed a nonbinding resolution urging the State Department to label Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization.

Kyl and Lieberman said the proposal does not authorize military force against Iran, but encourages the U.S. to cut off its financial support.

In Iran, reactions to Ahmadinejad’s U.S.-U.N. visit were just as passionate, if opposite in opinion.

Iranians expressed dismay Tuesday at the tough reception given to their president Monday at Columbia University in New York, saying his host was rude and only fueled the image of the United States as a bully.

The scenes at Monday’s question-and-answer session at Columbia University and the outpouring of venom toward Ahmadinejad by protesters during his U.S. visit could bolster the hardline leader at a time of high tensions with Washington.

Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s statement — including telling Ahmadinejad that he resembles a “petty and cruel dictator” — offended Iranians on many levels, not least that of simple hospitality. In traditions of the region, a host should be polite to a guest, no matter what he thinks of him.

Ahmadinejad’s popularity at home has been suffering, with many Iranians blaming him for failing to fix the faltering economy and for heightening the confrontation with the West with his inflammatory rhetoric.

But in the eyes of many Iranian critics and supporters alike, Ahmadinejad looked like the victim.

“Our president appeared as a gentleman. He remained polite against those who could not remain polite,” said Ahmad Masoudi, a customer at a grocery store who had watched state TV’s recorded version of the event.

Another customer in the store, Rasoul Qaresi, said Bollinger showed that even Americans “in a cultural position act like cowboys and nothing more.”

Others thought Bollinger’s words were unseemly for an academic setting. Tehran nurse Mahmoud Rouhi said the president was treated “like a suspect.”

“I don’t know why he stayed there and didn’t leave,” Rouhi said.

Iran’s state-run radio said Bollinger’s comments were “full of insult, which was mostly Zionists’ propaganda against Iran.”

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