WASHINGTON (AP) – The Bush administration will “walk a fine line” in seeking punitive international sanctions against Iran’s Islamic government over its disputed nuclear program, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
America’s top diplomat detailed on Wednesday a two-track approach to Iran _ concerted international pressure to deter the Iranians from building a bomb, and a newly robust attempt to seed democratic change inside the country with $75 million (¤63 million) for broadcasts and aid to dissidents.
Even so, Rice got a mixed reception from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She ran into tough questions from lawmakers of both parties about Iran, Iraq, the Palestinians and other issues, but she also won praise for accomplishments including a new alliance of world opinion against Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions.
“I don’t see, Madame Secretary, how things are getting better. I think things are getting worse. I think they’re getting worse in Iraq. I think they’re getting worse in Iran,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican who often veers from the party line. Hagel also was pessimistic about implications of the militant group Hamas’ victory in Palestinian elections last month.
On Iraq, the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Joseph Biden, countered Rice’s optimism about political unity among Iraq’s squabbling ethnic groups.
“I’m not hopeful,” Biden told Rice. “The policy seems not to be succeeding.”
Rice gave the most detailed glimpse to date of U.S. options and objectives on Iran, now that the U.N. Security Council is set to consider the case against its nuclear effort. She called the country the single greatest challenge faced by the United States because of its alleged nuclear ambitions and its role as a terrorist patron state. She goes before the senators again Thursday for more questions.
Under questioning from both Democratic and Republican senators frustrated with President George W. Bush’s policies in Middle East trouble spots, Rice acknowledged that the nations trying to keep Iran from building a bomb had divergent views over what to do next.
“It’s not easy. There is not a common view on when or how sanctions ought to be taken,” Rice said, “but the Iranian regime is giving the world a very good set of reasons to take serious measures.”
Rice said the United States is examining ramifications of “the full range of potential sanctions” the Security Council could levy but signaled that any initial steps would be small.
That is a tacit acknowledgment that the Bush administration probably would lose support from Iranian allies Russia and China, and perhaps other nations, should it seek tougher action now.
There is little stomach at the United Nations for broad economic sanctions like those imposed on Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Many countries worry that those could take a greater toll on ordinary citizens than on their government and might backfire by prompting Tehran to retaliate with higher oil prices.
“We want to look at the effect on the international community as a whole of any actions that we take, economies and the like,” she said. “I think you will see us trying to walk a fine line in what actions we take.”
Rice plans a trip to the Middle East and Persian Gulf area next week, including stops in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where the issue was sure to arise. The United States has long sought Security Council review for Iran, which claims its nuclear program is intended only to produce electricity. The United States and European allies contend Iran is bent on acquiring technology that could be used to build a bomb.
The Security Council could take up the Iran issue as early as March.
Rice also asked Congress for another $75 million (¤63 million) this year to build democracy in Iran, money that would go to dissidents and scholars as well as to finance Farsi language radio and satellite television programming in the mold of the old Radio Free Europe.
“The United States wishes to reach out to the Iranian people and support their desire to realize their own freedom and to secure their own democratic and human rights. The Iranian people should know that the United States fully supports their aspirations for a freer, better future,” Rice said.
A State Department official later refused to say whether the money is intended to help an eventual overthrow of the mullah-led government. Official U.S. policy seeks only to change Iran’s behavior. The official spoke to a roomful of reporters but insisted on anonymity.
The money comes on top of $10 million (¤8.4 million) already approved by Congress for similar projects this year. Together the sums would represent greater U.S. involvement than has been publicly identified before.
Rice also provided new detail about the future of U.S. aid to the Palestinians under Hamas, which the State Department lists as a terrorist group. Rice said the United States, which for years has provided aid to help the Palestinian people but very little directly to the Palestinian Administration, would not turn its back on such humanitarian programs as immunizing children against disease.
“But no money will go to that government,” Rice said under questioning by Sen. George Allen. “I don’t want a penny of taxpayer money going to Hamas,” Allen told Rice. “Neither do I,” she replied.
Rice reiterated that message later Wednesday in a private meeting with eight Jewish leaders she invited to the State Department to discuss Hamas and Iran.