- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Bush administration yesterday asked Congress for $75 million in addition to the $27 million in this year’s budget to undermine the Iranian regime by funding political dissidents and increasing American broadcasts to the Islamic republic.

Although the administration stopped short of calling for regime change in Tehran, as it did in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, it said the Iranian people deserve better than their current government.

“The Iranian regime is a strategic challenge to the United States, to the world, and a destabilizing influence in the Middle East,” Secretary of State Condoleezza 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.”

Miss Rice said she might shift funds from other programs in the 2007 budget to boost the Iran democracy fund.

“We will use this money to develop support networks for Iranian reformers, political dissidents and human rights activists,” she said at a hearing on the foreign-affairs budget.

“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,” she said.

Miss Rice said she would travel to the Middle East, including the Persian Gulf, next week to discuss Iran’s nuclear program, its support for terrorism and prospects for democracy.

Senior State Department officials, who briefed reporters on background information after Miss Rice’s testimony, said Washington has been receiving more support from other countries on pushing democracy in Iran since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office in August.

They said they have yet to identify groups in Iran to receive U.S. funding that can be trusted or that are not infiltrated by government agents. At first, money will be given to exile and other organizations outside the country until worthy internal recipients are found.

The officials also said they would deny aid to groups or individuals that engage in terrorism.

Miss Rice said she would “expand our educational exchanges with the young people of Iran who have never experienced democracy.”

“In the 1970s, 200,000 Iranians studied in the United States. The figure is 2,000 today,” she said. “I’ve read that it is forbidden in some quarters to play Beethoven and Mozart in Tehran; we hope that Iranians can play it in New York or in Los Angeles.”

During the often-contentious hearing, senators of both political parties criticized the administration’s policies in Iraq and Iran, saying they are not working.

“I don’t see, Madame Secretary, how things are getting better. I think things are getting worse. I think they are getting worse in Iraq. I think they are getting worse in Iran,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican.

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