WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a move to broaden pressure on Tehran's theocratic regime, asked Congress yesterday to sharply increase spending to promote democracy in Iran, from $10 million to $85 million this year.
The money would be used to support political opposition and civil society groups within Iran, increase U.S. broadcasting into the country, and underwrite more student study in the United States, Rice said.
"No one wants to see a Middle East that is dominated by an Iranian hegemony, particularly one that has access to nuclear technology," said Rice, who was appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The request reflects the Bush administration's recognition that diplomatic efforts to halt Tehran's nuclear program still face long odds and that attempts to reform Iran's government from the inside may offer one of the best chances for keeping the country free of nuclear weapons.
But Iranian officials, who are sensitive to signs of foreign influence, are likely to point to the effort as an example of U.S. meddling, and try to use it to foster anti-Americanism and build support for the regime, analysts said.
The United Nations Security Council is considering a report by the world body's nuclear watchdog agency that Iran has backed out of agreements intended to provide safeguards on the country's nuclear program, which Tehran insists is peaceful but the United States and European nations believe is aimed at developing atomic weapons.
As outlined by Rice, a $50 million outlay would allow the United States to broadcast Farsi language programs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Another $15 million would be earmarked for increasing participation in the political process, including measures such as expanded Internet access. The Bush administration also intends to spend $5 million to fund scholarships and fellowships for young Iranians.
Jon Wolfsthal, a proliferation expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said spending more to transmit broadcasts into Iran probably would have limited impact, considering that many Iranians have satellite dishes to watch foreign programming, and don't spend much time listening to U.S. broadcasts.
Rice did not give details of how the funds would be delivered, but said federal prohibitions restricting aid and money transfers to Iran would be eased "to allow the U.S. government to make grants to nongovernmental organizations for democracy-promotion activities in Iran."
Paul Richter writes for the Los Angeles Times.