Monday, March 13, 2006

U.S. Campaign Is Aimed at Iran's Leaders

U.S. Campaign Is Aimed at Iran's Leaders

U.S. Campaign Is Aimed at Iran's Leaders
Uneasy About Tehran's Nuclear Plans, Bush Administration Tries to Build Opposition to Theocracy

By Peter Baker and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writers

As the dispute over its nuclear program arrives at the U.N. Security Council today, Iran has vaulted to the front of the U.S. national security agenda amid Bush administration plans for a sustained campaign against the ayatollahs of Tehran.

President Bush and his team have been huddling in closed-door meetings on Iran, summoning scholars for advice, investing in opposition activities, creating an Iran office in Washington and opening listening posts abroad dedicated to the efforts against Tehran.

The internal administration debate that raged in the first term between those who advocated more engagement with Iran and those who preferred more confrontation appears in the second term to be largely settled in favor of the latter. Although administration officials do not use the term "regime change" in public, that in effect is the goal they outline as they aim to build resistance to the theocracy.

"We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Senate testimony last week. "We do not have a problem with the Iranian people. We want the Iranian people to be free. Our problem is with the Iranian regime."

In private meetings, Bush and his advisers have been more explicit. Members of the Hoover Institution's board of overseers who met with Bush, Vice President Cheney and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley two weeks ago emerged with the impression that the administration has shifted to a more robust policy aimed at the Iranian government.

"The message that we received is that they are in favor of separating the Iranian people from the regime," said Esmail Amid-Hozour, an Iranian American businessman who serves on the Hoover board.

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