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In a new advertising campagin, Republican presidential candidate and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney touts his refusal last fall to provide a police escort to former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami when he spoke at Harvard.
The 60-second radio spot, which is airing this week in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida, calls Harvard’s decision to invite Khatami to speak on campus a “disgrace” and praises Romney for refusing to provide the former Iranian leader with “VIP treatment at tax payer expense.”
Romney’s ad comes in the wake of a storm of controversy over whether current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should have been invited to speak at Columbia University while in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly.
A spokesperson for the Romney campaign said that the ad, which criticizes Khatami’s support of the terrorist group Hezbollah and his reported persecution of Jews and Christians, is aimed at highlighting Romney’s record on human rights.
After outcry arose over Khatami’s invitation to speak at an Institute of Politics forum last September, Romney—who received a joint degree in business and law from Harvard in 1974—refused to provide state security forces for Khatami’s protection.
The speech was held as planned after Boston and Cambridge police forces agreed to provide security.
David R. Gergen, director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School, said that he believes the ad will boost Romney’s chances in the Republican primary.
“He’s playing to the conservative, Republican base,” said Gergen, who worked for the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton administrations. “It will burnish his credentials as a hardcore conservative.”
But Gergen and Louise M. Richardson, executive dean at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, said they see the dispute as a low point of Romney’s term as governor.
“If I were Governor Romney, I would not be proud of the fact that I denied police escort to a head of state,” said Richardson, an expert on terrorism.
Richardson said that universities have a responsibility to defend freedom of speech.
“If they don’t, who will? And engaging with one’s adversaries can potentially be more productive than not,” she said.
Columbia has drawn criticism for its invitation to Ahmadinejad.
Elected in 2005, Ahmadinejad has adopted a hostile stance toward the United States, ignoring its demand that Iran end its uranium enrichment program, and has also drawn fire for his denial of the Holocaust.
Jeffrey Kwong ’09, president of the Harvard Republican Club, criticized Columbia for giving Ahmadinejad a platform to “spout homophobic, anti-American, anti-Semitic insults.”
In his ad, Romney calls for Ahmadinejad’s indictment under the Genocide Convention.
Many scholars and policy experts have objected to Romney’s equation of Khatami and Ahmadinejad in the ad. Khatami, an Islamic cleric who served as president from 1997 to 2005, created the “International Center for Dialogue Among Civilizations” in 2006 and has called for open discourse between the United States and Iran.
“While one shouldn’t white-wash Khatami, he certainly isn’t the hard-line renegade that Ahmadinejad is,” Gergen said.
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