WASHINGTON (AFP) - Outspoken US Senator John McCain raised eyebrows online on Monday when he compared Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a monkey that the Islamic republic recently launched into space.
"So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space - wasn't he just there last week?" said a message on McCain's official Twitter feed, followed by the headline and link to a recent story: "Iran launches monkey into space."
The comments by the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, a strong advocate for tougher sanctions on Teheran for its nuclear programme, followed Mr Ahmadinejad's claim earlier Monday that he is ready "to be the first man in space" under Iran's ambitious programme which aims to send a human being into orbit by 2020.
The slur by Mr McCain, the senator with by far the most Twitter followers, with nearly 1.8 million, elicited swift condemnation on Twitter. "Wow, way to elevate political discourse," tweeted @heyitsurban to McCain.
Another user, @manolo-loop, wrote: "@SenJohnMcCain is racism funny?" About 50 minutes after his original "monkey" tweet, McCain posted a follow-up.
"Re: Iran space tweet - lighten up folks, can't everyone take a joke?" The episode was the second off-colour attempt at humour by the veteran US senator in as many weeks.
On Jan 22, he joked at a press conference about the prospect of a Senate colleague being held hostage in Afghanistan, just days after a hostage drama in Algeria left dozens of hostages dead including three Americans.
Minutes later he quipped he was looking forward to interrogating Senator John Kerry in his confirmation hearing to be the next secretary of state, saying US authorities would use "waterboarding to get the truth out of him."