- Associated Press - Thursday, June 23, 2011

Former U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton on Thursday called for the U.S. government to provide aid to groups opposing the Syrian government, in an effort to combat the authoritarian regime.

“We should be providing whatever assistance [the protesters] think would be helpful to them,” Mr. Bolton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I would have done this on both an overt and covert basis, going back for years.”

Syria’s government has staged a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters since March.

Mr. Bolton also said the U.S. should be prepared to provide support to dissidents in Iran should public protests break out there.

In April 2009, thousands of Iranians protested the national election results that gave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term. The Islamic republic quashed the protests in a violent crackdown.

Thursday’s hearing adressed future U.S. policy on Syria and Iran, and examined at Iran’s nuclear program, which Mr. Bolton warned is developing quickly.

“It’s too late to do much to the facilities, even if we used a cyber attack,” he said, referring to a recent computer-based attack on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear lab. “They are introducing more advanced centrifuges.”

A recent study by a Rand Corp. staffer found that Iran has enough fissile material to produce a nuclear weapon in two months, but the think tank distanced itself from the findings, which it had not published them.

On May 24, the International Atmoic Energy Agency reported that Iran had significantly expanded its production of low-enriched uranium and that Iran’s atomic programs were tied to military organizations.

Mr. Bolton said President Obama’s staff were not taking seriously the danger of Iranian nuclear weapons and the possibility of an arms race across the Arabian Peninsula.

“Many in the current administration believe that, as undesirable as a nuclear Iran would be, it is a situation we can accept and live with,” he said.

Committee Chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, agreed.

“While President Obama has said that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons is ‘unacceptable,’ some in the administration appear resigned to the eventuality that the regime will build a bomb, and that the goal is to delay, rather than force permanent verifiable dismantlement,” she said.

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