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US Launches Broad Diplomatic Offensive Against Iran

Rice's trip was only one of several diplomatic forays planned to push the US case on the nuclear issue as well as concerns that Tehran was backing terrorist groups, Iraqi insurgents and Palestinian militants opposed to peace with Israel.
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (AFP) Feb 15, 2006
The United States signaled Wednesday a broadened diplomatic offensive against Iran, claiming Tehran posed a "strategic challenge" to the world on several fronts beyond fears over its nuclear program.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, testifying before a Senate committee, heralded stepped-up efforts to muster international action against Iran's alleged support for terrorism and human rights abuses at home.

She said she would travel to Egypt and the Gulf next week for talks with Washington's Arab allies on how to contain a regime she says is bent on "political subversion, terrorism, and support for violent Islamist extremism."

At the same time, Rice said the administration would seek an additional 75 million dollars from the US Congrees to fund around-the-clock Farsi radio and television broadcasts, and other efforts to promote Iranian democracy.

"The Iranian regime is a strategic challenge to the United States, to the world, and a destabilizing influence in the Middle East," Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"The United States will actively confront the aggressive policies of the Iranian regime," she said. "At the same time, we will work to support the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom and democracy in their country."

US officials said they were trying to expand their approach to Iran which for the last two years had been focused on suspicion the Islamic Republic was secretly trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Rice's trip was only one of several diplomatic forays planned to push the US case on the nuclear issue as well as concerns that Tehran was backing terrorist groups, Iraqi insurgents and Palestinian militants opposed to peace with Israel.

Washington hoped to put the spotlight on Iran at a meeting of senior envoys from the Group of Eight industrial powers in Moscow next week, according to a senior State Department official.

The official said plans were in the works for a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in late March or early April that would deal specifically with Iran.

"We need to work on a number of fronts and that's how we see the development of international attention to Iran," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He said the US hope was that countries with ties to Iran would use "the instruments at their disposal in terms of normal economic and trade relations" as levers to "push back" against Tehran's hardline policies.

US officials said the Iranian threat increased sharply after President Mahmud Ahmadinejad took office last August and pressed ahead with Tehran's nuclear program, while making bellicose statements about Israel and overtures to countries like Syria.

Washington finally succeeded this month in persuading the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN watchdog, to refer Iran to the UN Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions.

But the prospect of tough action against Tehran, which insists its nuclear activities are strictly for peaceful purposes, were clouded by the reluctance of Iran's veto-wielding allies Russia and China.

"I will not surprise you that there are differences about when and where and how to employ sanctions, should they be needed," Rice told the senators, adding Washington would have to "walk a fine line in what actions we take."

The Americans, who have virtually exhausted all their sanctions against Iran imposed since the 1979 seizure of US hostages in Tehran, have been speaking for months about the possibility of asking other states to take bilateral action.

Rice said Wednesday, "Our goal has to be to have, with other countries around the region, a kind of common dialogue and discussion about how to counter this Iranian behavior."

The 75 million dollars sought in supplemental funding for pro-democracy activities in Iran would be a dramatic increase over the current funding level of less than 30 million dollars for the 2006 fiscal year ending September 30, officials said.

"That money would enable us to increase our support for democracy and improve our radio broadcasting, begin satellite television broadcasts, increase the contacts between our peoples through expanded fellowships and scholarships for Iranian students, and to bolster our public diplomacy efforts," Rice said.

Fifty million dollars of the new money would go toward providing Farsi radio and television broadcasts into Iran 24 hours a day, seven days a week, also tapping into satellite technology.

The rest of the supplemental funds would go to assisting civil society orgzanizations and political reform groups, scholarship programs for students and efforts to use the Internet to reach the Iranian public.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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